How to File a Compliance Complaint Against a School District


When you have are having problems with your child’s school regarding its special education program, one option you have is filing a complaint with the California Department of Education, commonly referred to as the “C.D.E.”

A complaint like this is called a “compliance complaint” because you are complaining that the school or District is not complying with the law. You do not have to have an attorney to do this. Here is a link to the CDE's special education division: https://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/se/

The California Department of Education or “CDE” oversees all of the public schools in California. They are responsible for making sure all of the school districts comply with the laws relating to special education.

HOW DO YOU FILE A COMPLAINT?

It is simple to file a complaint. The hardest part is finding out that you CAN file a complaint, and figuring out where to send it to. The complaint process is explained on the CDE’s website here: https://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/se/qa/cmplntproc.asp

The above link explains that anyone can file a complaint. A complaint is a formal request for the CDE to investigate allegations of noncompliance with the special education laws. You can initiate complaint just by writing a letter or by filling out their complaint form. The most important part of the complaint is that you explain how the school violated the law. If you know the law that was violated, state that also. But it is also ok to explain the violation without citing to the law. For example, you might state that:

  • My child’s school is not providing my child with RSP services (RSP is supplemental teaching by a teacher with expertise in teaching special needs students) according to his or her IEP (then attach copy of the latest IEP

  • My child has not been given an IEP meeting in over a year (then attach copy of the last IEP)

  • The school took away my child’s speech therapy without my permission (then attach IEP with the speech therapy and the new IEP where they take the speech therapy out as well as any emails or letters you have on the topic)

  • The school reduced my child’s RSP hours without my consent and without having done an assessment to justify the reduction (same as above)

  • My child is not making academic progress and I think his or her IEP does not contain enough services and support to enable he or she to make progress. (Send child’s IEP, most recent assessment, copies of report cards, progress reports to show no progress in grades and no progress on IEP goals)

  • The school refuses to admit that my child needs special education. (Attach any assessments or doctor diagnoses you have to show child has educational handicap, as well as proof of the issues such as report cards, progress reports, notes or emails from teachers, from you, etc.).

It is important to send evidence of your complaint to the CDE. You should document your claims with copies of IEPs, assessments, report cards, e-mail, etc., because the District is likely to deny the facts otherwise. Give the CDE all the proof you have. Send an email to the school or teacher laying out all the facts of what happened, then send the CDE a copy of that email and any response you get, or say you did not get a response.

WHAT ARE SOME EXAMPLES OF THINGS THAT THE CDE WILL INVESTIGATE?

See the above list for examples of things you can complaint to the CDE about. In addition to those, here are a few more:

  • My child is being disciplined for manifesting symptoms of his or her disability

  • My child is not being allowed to go on a field trip with classmates unless parent comes along

  • School is refusing to provide the accommodations listed in my child’s IEP

  • School is refusing to assess my child in the area of _________, despite my child manifesting all the signs of such disability, such as ...(then provide details). In the blank you could fill in: speech and language, attention, autism, behavior, learning disability, dyslexia, visual impairment, fine motor skills (means manual dexterity, aka hands and fingers), gross motor skills (arms and legs movement impacting school), etc.

  • School conducted an assessment on my child but the assessment is so poorly done as to be virtually useless (then provide details).

  • School knew my child had issues and pretended they had no duty to assess. It was not until I learned about my rights and requested an assessment that my child was qualified for special education. Now he or she is very far behind in school.

  • My child is hearing/sight impaired and school is not providing adequate supports to enable my child to attend school and benefit from his or her education.

  • My child can’t attend school because it is not safe. He or she has run away several times and school is doing nothing to keep them safe.

  • I am having to go to school with my child daily because school won’t provide nursing or aide services to enable my child to use the bathroom / take medication / use inhaler/ receive needed medical care / eat lunch.

WHAT WILL HAPPEN AFTER I FILE A COMPLAINT?

After the CDE receives your complaint they will call you to discuss it and request any documentation they need. They will then begin investigation assuming they believe you have complained about a valid violation of the law. That means you must be complaining about a real violation of the law that took place in the last year. They will contact the school and request information from the school. They will then either send out a letter detailing their findings, and imposing any penalties on the school.

WHAT KIND OF THINGS WILL THE CDE DO IF THEY FIND VIOLATIONS OF THE LAW?

If the CDE determines the school has violated the law, they will order the school to begin complying, and often to do some extra to make up for the past. This would be called "compensatory services", such as if CDE orders school to provide an extra 10 hours of RSP to make up for failing to provide it in the past.

The CDE will sometimes give the school a certain number of days to provide proof that they have complied. If the problem is serious enough, the CDE will sometimes order the school to submit to periodic inspections or to submit documentation of implementing new programs, putting material on their website, etc.

Repeated violations by a school can lead to more serious consequences.

Sometimes making a compliance complaint can seem like a lot of work - but remember, if parents don't complain, the school is going to keep doing these things to other students, or even to your younger children.

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