Resolving parent-school conflicts

Sep 24, 2010, 2:34 AM | Updated: Mar 28, 2011, 3:46 pm

If you’re a parent and you have a serious problem with your child’s school, but don’t feel like the teacher or principal are listening to your concerns, what can you do?

Washington has the only agency in the U.S. that helps parents resolve conflicts with public schools. The legislature started the Office of Education Ombudsman a few years ago after state lawmakers and the governor were inundated with calls from parents needing help, but having nowhere to turn.

“We’re a very small office, and becoming smaller,” says Adie Simmons, director of the Office of Education Ombudsman. “There are only five of us to address the needs of the state.”

A new report on the 2009-2010 school year shows the office took an average of 979 phone calls per month.

Many of the calls came from rural areas of the state, where parents asked for help with a range of problems – from bullying and harassment issues to discrimination and special education needs. They even dealt with 19 disputes about school lunches. A majority of the cases, 227, were related to special ed. Almost 90 dealt with suspensions, with parents trying to get their kids back in school.

Employees in the Ombudsman’s office are part detective and part counselor as they figure out what’s really going on. They have to be both empathetic and objective.

“We do a lot of research. We research policies and laws. We try to talk to the student to get that perspective as well,” she says.

The program tracks demographics of the students served. About 51 percent of the students were white, while 47 percent were children of color.

There is no cost to parents, but Simmons says “this little office” might be in danger due to state budget cuts. Their number, for a serious complaint that hasn’t been resolved at the school level, is 1-866-297-2597. Parents or guardians can also mail a request for services form.

They have a high track record of getting students back to school and preventing students from dropping out. Their report also shows the schools involved changed their positions or considered “new options” for resolving a dispute in 94 percent of the cases.

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Resolving parent-school conflicts