Filing a State Complaint

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Closeup of the spirals in a notebook, pen laid alongside.September 2012

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State complaints are an important procedural safeguard in IDEA, because they give individuals and organizations a mechanism through which they can address special education conflicts and resolve disputes. The complaint resolution process tends to be less intimidating than a due process hearing and is an alternative to it.

Interestingly, the IDEA statute does not include State complaint procedures. Rather, it is the final Part B regulations that require each state to adopt written procedures for resolving any complaint that meets the definition of a “State complaint” under the Part B regulations. The requirements for State complaint procedures are found in the regulations at §§300.151-300.153.

Read more about the state complaint process through these options:

Then go to the two separate pages below for the details. These details are important to know, if you’re thinking about filing a state complaint as an approach to resolving a dispute in special education. The summary below is not a substitute for knowing the actual details of IDEA’s regulations and requirements. It is just a summary.

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The State Complaint Process, Summarized

A state complaint is very much what it sounds like: a letter written to a official state agency to report a violation or problem. Within special education, it’s one of several procedural safeguards available under IDEA to resolve disputes between parents of children with disabilities and the school systems responsible for educating those children.

To whom does a person write? Why would a person write? What must he or she include in the complaint? What happens then? The answers to these questions are the heart and soul of the state complaint procedure–and they are largely determined by the requirements of IDEA. States must follow IDEA’s regulations when they develop and implement the state complaint procedures in the state.

While many details exist in the process and are important to know, a quick summary of the state complaint requirements as a dispute resolution option would include these major points:

Any individual or organization may file a complaint alleging that the State or other participating agency has violated a requirement of the IDEA.

An individual wishing to file a complaint must provide a copy of the complaint to the school district or public agency serving the child at the same time the complaint is filed with the SEA. In some states, the SEA provides for the filing of a complaint with a public agency and retains the right to have the SEA review the public agency’s decision on the complaint.

Complaints must be written and signed and must contain a statement that a public agency has violated a requirement of Part B of IDEA or its implementing regulations and the facts upon which the statement is based.

The complaint must allege a violation that occurred not more than one year prior to the date that the complaint is received.

The SEA is obligated to resolve such a complaint within 60 calendar days from the date of receipt, unless exceptional circumstances exist with respect to the complaint.

The complainant (the individual or organization filing the complaint) must be given the opportunity to submit additional information, either orally or in writing, about the allegations in the complaint.

The SEA must conduct an on-site investigation, if it determines such an investigation to be necessary.

The SEA must review all relevant information and make an independent determination as to whether the school system has violated or is violating a requirement of the law.

The SEA must then issue a written decision that addresses each of the allegations in the complaint and contains the findings of fact and conclusions, as well as the reasons for the SEA’s final decision.

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Your State’s Complaint Procedures

As was mentioned above, working from IDEA’s requirements, states develop and implement their own state complaint procedures (which still must address the IDEA requirements at 34 CFR §§300.151-153). Therefore, it’s helpful to know what state complaint procedures exist in your state.

You can find out by contacting the Director of Special Education at your SEA and requesting information about these procedures. Additional clarification may also be available about how mediation, the due process procedure, and the State complaint process operate as distinct and separate remedies. Visit the website of your SEA (or call, or email) to find out more about your state’s complaint procedures. You can find all this contact information for your SEA by visiting NICHCY’s State Resource Sheet page, selecting your state from the drop-down menu, and looking under “State Agencies” for the listing for your SEA.

You may also want to seek advice from the Parent Training and Information Center (PTI) or the Protection and Advocacy (P&A) Agency in your state. Your PTI is listed on NICHCY’s State Resource Sheet for your state under “Organizations for Parents.” The P&A agency is also listed—under “State Agencies.”

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Want the details now?

As mentioned above, details of the state complaint procedures can be found in two companion pages:

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About CADRE!

Logo of CADRE, the National Center on Dispute Resolution.We also highly recommend visiting CADRE, the National Center on Dispute Resolution in Special Education, where you’ll find a wide range of materials in English and Spanish to help you understand how to resolve disputes in special education. 

Find CADRE at: http://www.directionservice.org/cadre/

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Read More about Options for Resolving Disputes

Would you like to read more in depth about any of the dispute resolution options under IDEA? If so, the links below will take you to individual discussion pages.

 

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.