Complaints About Discrimination
Each student must 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.
Discrimination Dispute Resolution Information Sheets
This resource includes information about the different dispute resolution options available to address concerns about discrimination in Washington public schools. It also includes step-by-step instructions for how to file a discrimination complaint with a school district or charter school.
Filing a Formal Discrimination Complaint
Anyone can file a complaint that alleges discrimination in a Washington public school based on a protected class. This includes parents, students, teachers, administrators, and advocates. Follow the complaint procedure closely. If you have questions, go directly to your school district or charter school and ask for the information you need to move forward.
Washington state has Washington Administrative Codes (WAC) specific to discrimination complaint procedures in public schools:
Please note: you may have other complaint or dispute resolution options available to you, including complaints with other state and federal agencies. You may also contact an attorney for legal advice.
A formal discrimination complaint must be in writing and include a description of the specific acts, conditions, or circumstances alleged to be unlawful discrimination.
When writing a complaint, it may be helpful to
- Clearly state that you wish to file a formal discrimination complaint, and you want the district or charter school to investigate
- Describe the conduct or incident—use facts (what, who and when)
- Explain why you believe unlawful discrimination has taken place
- Describe what actions you believe the district or charter school should take to resolve the problem
Send your written complaint—by mail, fax, email, or hand delivery—to the district superintendent, charter school administrator, or civil rights coordinator.
OSPI maintains a list of websites for all state school districts. Contact information should be on these district websites.
Once the school district or charter school receives your complaint, it must conduct an investigation and respond to you within 30 calendar days.
The civil rights coordinator provides you a copy of the school district or charter school's procedure
Your civil rights coordinator has an important role to play once the school district or charter school receives your written complaint.
The coordinator must:
- Give you a copy of the school district or charter school's procedure to follow for discrimination complaints
- Make sure a prompt and thorough investigation takes place
The school district or charter school completes an investigation within 30 calendar days
The school district or charter school must complete the investigation within 30 calendar days — unless you agree on a different time period.
Some complaints may take longer than 30 calendar days to investigate when they involve exceptional circumstances. If your complaint involves exceptional circumstances that demand a lengthier investigation, the school district or charter school must notify you in writing with why staff need this time extension and a new date for their written response.
At any point, you may decide to resolve your complaint immediately instead of proceeding with the investigation.
The school district or charter school responds to your complaint in writing
When the investigation is complete, the school district or charter school must respond to your complaint in writing.
The written response must include this information:
- A summary of the results of the investigation
- A determination that states clearly whether or not the district or charter school failed to comply with civil rights law
- Notification that you can appeal this determination, including how and where to file a appeal, and to whom it must addressed
- Any measures, determined through the investigation, necessary to bring the district or charter school into compliance with civil rights law
Any necessary corrective measures must be put into effect within 30 calendar days after this written response—unless you agree to a different time period.
Mediation is an option you could consider. Under state law, a school district or charter school can offer — at their own expense — the option to resolve complaints through an impartial mediator. Mediation must be voluntary on the part of parents and guardians.
WAC 392-190-0751 Mediation
If you decide to use a mediator, it is possible to extend the 30-calendar day time period during which the school district or charter school must respond to your complaint.
Important! Be aware that OSPI does not approve, endorse, or enforce agreements reached through mediation.
If you do not agree with the determination that follows the school district or charter school’s investigation of your complaint, you can file an appeal. Information about the appeal process should be included in the written response you receive once the school district or charter school has completed their investigation.
Appeals must be made to an official or board not involved in the complaint. Most appeals go to the school district or charter school's board of directors or school board.
File the appeal within 10 calendar days of receiving the written decision
School districts and charter schools are allowed to adopt a filing deadline for appeals. Find out if your district has a deadline for filing an appeal related to complaints of discrimination. This deadline must be no shorter than 10 calendar days from the date you received the written response to the investigation that followed from your complaint.
30 calendar days to respond to your appeal
Once the school district or charter school receives your appeal, it must respond to you in writing—within 30 calendar days—unless you agree on a different time period.
The appeal decision must include information about how to file a complaint with OSPI. If you do not agree with the appeal decision, state law provides the option to file a complaint with OSPI.
If you have completed the complaint and appeal process of your school district or charter school but still disagree with the district or school's decision, you may file a complaint to OSPI.
You may also file a complaint with OSPI if you believe the school district or charter school has not followed the complaint and appeal process correctly. For example, if you file a discrimination complaint with your school district, and the district does not investigate or respond to your complaint within 30 calendar days, you may file a complaint with OSPI. At that time, OSPI may require the school district to conduct an investigation.
Please note: OSPI will not accept a discrimination complaint that a school district or charter school has not first had the opportunity to investigate and resolve.
Step 1—Write out and send your complaint within 20 calendar days of receiving the appeal decision
A written complaint to OSPI must include the following information:
- A description the conduct or incident—use facts (what, who and when)
- An explanation of why you believe unlawful discrimination has taken place
- Your name and contact information, including a mailing address
- The name and address of the school district that is the subject of your complaint
- A copy of the complaint and appeal decisions from the district
- A description of what actions you believe the district should take to resolve the problem
- If your complaint relates to a specific student, make sure you include (a) the name and address of the student and (b) the name of the school and school district the student attends
You may use OPSI's optional complaint form, which is designed to help ensure you provide OSPI with information needed to evaluate whether to open your complaint for investigation.
Send your written complaint to the OSPI Equity and Civil Rights Office:
- Email: Equity@k12.wa.us
- Fax: 360-664-2967
- Mail or hand deliver: OSPI Equity and Civil Rights Office, PO Box 47200, 600 Washington St. S.E., Olympia, WA 98504-7200
You must send your complaint to OSPI within 20 calendar days from the day you received the decision on your appeal from the district or charter school—unless OSPI extends this deadline based on circumstances.
Step 2—OSPI responds to your complaint
Staff at OSPI will review your complaint and decide whether or not to begin an investigation. If OSPI staff decide to investigate your complaint, they will send written notification to you and the district or charter school.
OSPI will not investigate if your complaint:
- Is incomplete or arrives after the 20-day deadline
- Does not allege a violation of a civil rights law that OSPI enforces (See Civil Rights Laws and Regulation for more information about the laws OSPI enforces)
- Has not been brought to the attention of the district or charter school through the local complaint and appeal process
- Was investigated by another state, federal, or local agency and OSPI expects a comparable resolution
If OSPI investigates the complaint, OSPI will send you a written decision that describes the outcome of the investigation and includes any corrective actions necessary to correct noncompliance.
U.S. Department of Education, 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
Washington State Human Rights Commission (WSHRC)
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
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Office for Civil Rights (USDA)
The Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. 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 the USDA 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
Investigating & Resolving Discrimination Complaints Tips
School districts and charter schools 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 school district or charter school procedures that address unwritten or informal allegations of discrimination must ensure these procedures do not limit or deny anyone’s right to file a formal complaint.
If your school district or charter school is unable to resolve an issue informally, staff must let the complainant know about their right to file a formal complaint.
Annual notification to students, parents, and employees is mandatory
At least once each school year, the school district or charter school must provide notice to students, parents, staff, and volunteers of 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 school district or charter school 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 school district or charter school receives a discrimination complaint—or becomes aware of possible discrimination or discriminatory harassment. Make sure to follow your school district or chart school’s procedures!
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