Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction - Students Rights
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Student and Family

Parent and Student Rights
By the Office of the Education Ombudsman

Where Do Your Rights Come From?

This article covers:

  • Where Do Your Rights Come From?
  • Key Educational Rights for Washington Families
  • Making a Complaint
  • Exercising Your Rights When a Problem Arises

Washington state does not have a specific "bill of rights" that covers all parent and student interactions with schools. Instead, those rights are contained in several sources:

  • Statutes. Education laws established by the U.S. Congress or the Washington State Legislature.
    • Many federal education statutes (laws) address the needs of particular student groups, such as bilingual students and students with disabilities. Examples of federal laws you may encounter are the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
    • Washington state education statues define how our state's public education system operates. They can be found in Section 28A of the Revised Code of Washington.
  • Regulations. Rules and procedures for how a law will be put into practice and how the government will make sure that the law is followed. State regulations concerning education can be found in the Washington Administrative Code.
  • State and Local Policies. Rules and procedures created by government agencies and organizations.
    Student rights are protected by Washington Administrative Code 392-400-215.

Key Educational Rights for Washington Families

Here is a sampling of important rights of parents and students in Washington state public schools. You have more rights than described here. If your situation is not included below, contact the Office of the Education Ombudsman to find out about rights that protect you.

Enrollment in School

  • The Washington Constitution provides all children with the right to a free public education through 12th grade. Schools can't remove students from school without providing the family an opportunity to object.
  • Students have the right to promptly enroll in the school district where they live, even if they are homeless or in foster care.
  • First-time enrollment requires a birth certificate and proof of immunization. A family can ask for an exception to immunization requirements because of religious or personal beliefs.
  • Schools cannot require proof of citizenship or immigration status to enroll in school.

Attendance and Truancy (The Becca Bill)

  • All children from age 8 to 17 must attend a public school, private school or a district-approved home school program. If parents enroll a 6- or 7-year-old child in public school, the student must attend full-time.
  • Parents have the right to be informed when their student misses school without an excuse.
  • After a student has two or more unexcused absences, schools must set up a meeting with parents to develop a plan to help the student get to school.
  • If the school files a truancy petition, parents have the right to appear with the student in juvenile court.

Behavior Issues

  • Schools should provide students and families with a copy of the school rules so that they know what behavior is expected. Many teachers also have classroom rules that outline expectations for student behavior.
  • If a student misbehaves at school, teachers and administrators can use a variety of methods to correct the inappropriate behavior. However, corporal punishment is against the law in Washington state public schools.
  • If a student is disciplined at school, parents and the student have a right to know what the student is accused of doing wrong, which rules allegedly were broken, and what the consequences will be.
  • Schools must notify parents or guardians when a student is expelled or suspended for more than one school day.
  • Students and parents have the right to challenge a school’s consequence but must do it quickly, usually within three days.

Discrimination and Bullying

  • Discrimination occurs when a person is treated differently than others because of the person’s race, color, creed, national origin, sex, religion, disability, use of a trained guide dog or service animal by a person with a disability, or sexual orientation/gender identity. Students and families have the right to be free from discrimination and harassment in public schools.
  • Schools are required to have policies and procedures to address bullying and harassment of students.

Home Schooling

  • Parents have a right to home school children in a district-approved program.
  • Home school programs must meet standards for the instructor’s qualifications and the subjects taught.

Services for Students With Disabilities

  • Parents have the right to ask the school district to assess their student if they suspect the child has a disability that interferes with learning.
  • A district can conduct a special education evaluation only with parents’ permission.
  • Parents have a right to be part of the team that creates an individualized education plan (IEP) for a student with a disability. An IEP outlines what the school will do to help the student make progress.
  • Students with disabilities have a right to be placed in a regular classroom setting whenever possible.
  • The school cannot suspend or expel a student for behavior related to a disability.
  • Parents have a right to resolve disputes through free special education mediation or a due process hearing.

Programs for English Language Learners

  • When a family speaks a language other than English at home, the school should test the students' English abilities within their first 10 days in school to facilitate appropriate placement in a school program for English language learners.
  • Students who need help with written or spoken English have a right to be taught in a transitional bilingual education program. The purpose of bilingual programs is to teach students English and to make sure they do not fall behind in other subjects (such as history and math) while learning the language.
  • Parents have a right not to enroll students in bilingual education programs.

Making a Complaint

Families and students can make a formal complaint to a school district if a school or district official is not following a law or policy. Most districts have a formal complaint policy and a system to receive complaints. These policies often require parents to put complaints in writing.

Parents, guardians and students can file a confidential complaint against a school or district with the Office of the Education Ombudsman.

Parents or students who believe they were harassed or treated differently than others based on race, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation or another reason have a right to file a complaint with the Washington State Human Rights Commission or the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights.

Exercising Your Rights When a Problem Arises

When you are confronted with a problem involving a school, ask these questions:

  • What law, regulation or policy applies to my situation?
  • Has a law or policy been violated?
  • Where does the law or policy come from? Is it a state law, a school or district policy, or a federal law?

How you go about solving the problem, and who can help, will depend on your knowledge of your rights and the answers to these questions. When you find out the answers to these questions, you will have a better idea of how to get the results you want, so that your student has the best opportunity to succeed at school. If you are in doubt, contact the Office of the Education Ombudsman.

Access to Information

  • Parents have the right to review their student’s education records.
  • Schools cannot release a student’s education records to anyone else without written permission from the parent or guardian.
  • The Washington Public Records Act requires schools, districts and school boards to provide public access to their records.
  • The Washington Open Public Meetings Act requires state and local school boards to conduct official business in meetings that are open to the public and announced in advance.

For more information, visit the Washington State Office of the Education Ombudsman. OEO is a state agency in the Governor’s Office, separate from the public education system.

Office of the Education Ombudsman
Toll free: (866) 297-2597
Fax: (360) 586-0052

Other publication produced by the OEO:

  • Make the Most of a Parent-Teacher Conference
  • Bullying at School
  • How Does a School District Work?
  • Resolving Conflict at School
  • And much more


Student Rights

This information is also available as a brochure in multiple languages:


Learning By Choice

Learning By Choice: An Act Relating to Student Enrollment Options in Washington State

This booklet defines "family choice" and its main components.

Download the Booklet (PDF, 31 pages)


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