Filing a Complaint with the State Education Agency

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A cluster of pencils.From our series of model letters…because sometimes
you need to communicate with the school
about your child’s education.

3rd edition, January 2011

 

This short publication comes from a much longer Parent’s Guide that focuses on communicating with your child’s school via letter writing. There are times when you, as a parent, may want to communicate in writing with your child’s school about some problem or concern with your child’s education or well-being. Because the Parent’s Guide is so long, NICHCY decided it would be more convenient to our readers if each of the letters discussed in the guide was also available separately, to make reading and printing individual letters easier.

This page presents a model letter or email you might write to file a complaint with the State Education Agency as an approach to resolving a dispute with your child’s school.

 

Discussion

What’s a State complaint, and why would I file one?

There are several means of resolving conflicts with the school system, including mediation and due process. A third means is filing a complaint with the State Education Agency (SEA).

You have the right to file a complaint when you believe that the state or school district has violated a requirement of the IDEA. The SEA must resolve your complaint within 60 calendar days (not business days) from the day they receive it, unless there are exceptional circumstances with respect to the complaint. The complaint process can be effective in resolving conflicts with the school system and is less costly and intimidating than a due process hearing.

You can file a State complaint with the SEA about any of the matters for which you might otherwise file a request for a due process hearing, as well as for any other reason you feel that the school system has violated the IDEA. However, be aware that, if you write a complaint on an issue that is also part of a current due process hearing, the SEA will not investigate this issue. The due process hearing takes precedence over the State complaint process. The SEA will only investigate those issues in your State complaint that are not part of your due process hearing.

Some examples of issues you might write a State complaint about include:

  • Your child is denied the opportunity to attend or participate in school-sponsored events, such as field trips or after school activities.
  • Your child has a shorter school day, because the special education students arrive later or are dismissed from school earlier than the general education students are.
  • You use mediation to resolve a disagreement with the school, but the school fails to implement the signed agreement.
  • The school fails to give you appropriate prior written notice. Or,
  • You have a decision from a hearing officer that the school district is not implementing.

Detailed information about the State complaint procedure is available at NICHCY, beginning at: http://nichcy.org/schoolage/disputes/statecomplaint/

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How do I file a complaint with the State Education Agency?

Your state’s policies for filing a State complaint should be included in its IDEA regulations. Call your local special education office or the SEA if you need more information about the policies. Also ask for the name and address of the person to whom you should write your letter. Your complaint must be signed. Among other things, it must also contain:

  • a statement that a public agency (for example, your school system) has violated a requirement of Part B of the IDEA or its regulations, and
  • the facts on which you base this statement.

Seek advice | Whenever you file a State complaint (or seek mediation or due process), it is a good idea as well to seek advice from the Parent Training and Information Center (PTI) or the Protection and Advocacy Agency (P&A) in your state. These organizations are identified on NICHCY’s State List for your state , which is available online on our website. The PTI is listed under “Organizations for Parents.” The P&A is listed under “State Agencies.” Find your State List at: http://nichcy.org/state-organization-search-by-state

The model letter below gives you an example of how you might write this complaint. Note that it is important to state what requirement of the law has been violated. The PTI or P&A in your state can help you identify the specific sections of IDEA to list in your complaint.

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General letter-writing tips

When writing any business letter, it is important to keep it short and to the point. First, start by asking yourself the following questions and state the answers in your letter:

  •  Why am I writing?
  • What are my specific concerns?
  • What are my questions?
  • What would I like the person to do about this situation?
  • What sort of response do I want: a letter, a meeting, a phone call, or something else?

Each letter you write should include the following basic information:

  • Put the date on your letter.
  • Give your child’s full name and the name of your child’s main teacher or current class placement.
  • Say what you want, rather than what you don’t want. Keep it simple.
  • Give your address and a daytime phone number where you can be reached.
  • Always end your letter with a “thank you.”

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 What are some other tips to keep in mind?

You want to make a good impression so that the person reading your letter will understand your request and say “yes.” Remember, this person may not know you, your child, or your child’s situation. Keep the tone of your letter pleasant and businesslike. Give the facts without letting anger, frustration, blame, or other negative emotions creep in. Some letter-writing tips include:

  • After you write your first draft, put the letter aside for a day or two. Then look at it again and revise it with fresh eyes.
  • Read your letter as though you are the person receiving it. Is your request clear? Have you included the important facts? Does your letter ramble on and on? Is it likely to offend, or is the tone businesslike?
  • Have someone else read your letter for you. Is your reason for writing clear? Can the reader tell what you are asking for? Would the reader say “yes” if he or she received this letter? Can your letter be improved?
  • Use spell check and grammar check on the computer. Or ask someone reliable to edit your letter before you send it.
  • Keep a copy for your records.

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Model Letter

Today’s Date (include month, day, and year)

Your Name
Street Address
City, State, Zip Code
Daytime telephone number

Name of person to whom you’re writing
Title
Street Address
City, State, Zip Code

Dear (Person’s name),

I am writing to file a complaint on behalf of my son/daughter, (child’s name), regarding his/her education in the (name of school district). The nature of my complaint is as follows:

Explain the problem with BRIEF statements of fact.

Consider listing the facts that support your complaint with bullets or numbers.

For the above reasons, I believe the school district is in violation of certain requirements in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, specifically: (list the requirements of IDEA you feel the school system has violated. For example,

“The school system has violated the following requirements of the IDEA:

  • to consider whether my child needs assistive technology services or devices, as required by Section 300.324(a)(2)(v);
  • to include in my child’s IEP a statement of the special education, related services and supplementary aids and services, including assistive technology, that he/she needs as required by Section300.320(a)(4).”

Enclosed are copies of relevant documents and correspondence I have sent to and received from the school district concerning this matter. These documents are (List the documents you have enclosed, giving the date sent, by whom, to whom, and the issue discussed.)

Please provide me with copies of any information you obtain in the process of investigating my complaint. If you need further information or clarification on my complaint, I can be reached at (give your phone number). Thank you.

Sincerely,

Your name

cc: school district special education director
your child’s principal
your advocate or attorney

Note: The “cc:” at the bottom of the letter means you are sending a copy of your letter to the people listed after the cc.

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Would you like to read another letter?

Discussing a problem
http://nichcy.org/publications/letterwriting/problem

Requesting a copy of your child’s records 
http://nichcy.org/publications/letterwriting/records

Requesting an evaluation for special education services
http://nichcy.org/publications/letterwriting/evaluation

Requesting an independent evaluation
http://nichcy.org/publications/letterwriting/iee

Requesting a meeting to review your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP)
http://nichcy.org/publications/letterwriting/iep

Requesting a change in your child’s placement 
http://nichcy.org/publications/letterwriting/placement

Informing the school that you intend to place your child in a private school at public expense
http://nichcy.org/publications/letterwriting/private

Requesting prior written notice
http://nichcy.org/publications/letterwriting/notice

Requesting mediation to resolve a conflict
http://nichcy.org/publications/letterwriting/mediation

Requesting a due process hearing  to resolve a conflict 
http://nichcy.org/publications/letterwriting/hearing

Filing a complaint with the State  to resolve a conflict (you’re already here)

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NOTICE: The National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities (NICHCY) is no longer in operation. Our funding from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) ended on September 30, 2013. Our website and all its free resources will remain available until September 30, 2014.