Complaints About Discrimination
Each student should have equal access to public education without discrimination. If parents, students, school staff, or community members believe that a student has experienced discrimination or discriminatory harassment, there are steps they can take to resolve these concerns.
Students' Rights: Discrimination Dispute Resolution Options
Other complaint options:
Talk with your principal or civil rights coordinator
A discussion with your principal or the civil rights coordinator at the school district is often the best action you can take to address your concerns. These staff members can make sure your student has equal access to all the programs and services your school has to offer. Share what happened and let the principal or coordinator know what they can do to help resolve the problem.
Contact your district’s civil rights coordinator
File a discrimination complaint with your school district
Anyone can file a complaint about discrimination with a school district. Most often, complaints must be filed with your school district within one year of the date of the alleged discrimination. In most cases, the school district must investigate the complaint and respond within 30 calendar days.
School District Discrimination Complaints – Step-by-step instructions
File a discrimination complaint with the Office for Civil Rights (OCR)
The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Education enforces several federal civil rights laws, which prohibit discrimination in public schools on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, and age. File complaints with OCR within 180 calendar days (6 months) of the date of the alleged discrimination.
OCR Complaints – Step-by-step instructions
File a discrimination complaint with the Human Rights Commission
The Washington State Human Rights Commission (WSHRC) enforces the Washington Law Against Discrimination (RCW 49.60), which prohibits discrimination in employment and in places of public accommodation, including schools. File complaints with WSHRC within 6 months of the date of the alleged discrimination.
Human Rights Commission Complaints – Step-by-step instructions
File a complaint alleging discrimination in federally-funded meal services with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Office for Civil Rights (OCR)
The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) enforces civil rights laws for federally-funded programs, and prohibits discrimination in public schools on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, and age. File complaints with OCR within 180 calendar days (6 months) of the date of the alleged discrimination.
USDA Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Program Discrimination Complaint Form
Contact the Equity and Civil Rights Office
The Equity and Civil Rights Office at OSPI can help answer questions and resolve concerns about discrimination in your child's school. Be aware that we do not provide legal advice or advocate on anyone’s behalf.
360-725-6162 ǀ TTY 360-664-3631 ǀ firstname.lastname@example.org
School districts must adopt and implement complaint and appeal procedures to investigate and resolve allegations of unlawful discrimination. These procedures must also address complaints of discriminatory harassment.
Complaint and appeal procedures must include the following steps:
- Complaint to the school district │ WAC 392-190-065
- Appeal to the school board │ WAC 392-190-070
- Complaint to OSPI │ WAC 392-190-075
Unwritten or Informal Allegations of Discrimination
Any district procedures that address unwritten or informal allegations of discrimination must ensure these procedures don’t limit or deny anyone’s right to file a formal complaint.
If your district is unable to resolve an issue informally, staff must let the complainant know about their right to file a formal complaint.
Parent Notification — Annually — Is Mandatory
At least once each school year, the district must let students, parents, staff, and volunteers know how the complaint process works and how to appeal a decision.
- WAC 392-190-060 Compliance—Designation of responsible employee—Notification
- Sample language for your student handbook
Well-informed Front Office Staff
We encourage districts to make sure front office staff are knowledgeable about the discrimination complaint process — well enough informed to provide accurate information to students, families, staff, and community members.
Conduct a prompt, thorough, and impartial investigation every time the district receives a discrimination complaint—or becomes aware of possible discrimination or discriminatory harassment. Make sure to follow your district’s procedures!
Resources and Support
- Discrimination Complaint and Appeal Procedures (Guidelines: Prohibiting Discrimination, pages 62–66)
- Investigation Tips and Techniques (Guidelines: Prohibiting Discrimination, pages 80–82)
- Title IX Coordinator Resource Guide
- OCR Resolution Agreements