Basics: Fighting Against Discrimination

What to Do: 

Justice & Equality Legal Services (JELS) is here to assist in the entire process. Ideally, you contact JELS at the beginning, when you are concerned about what is happening to your child at school, but unsure whether the behavior warrants a complaint or you’re sure that it does, but you do not know what to do. Perhaps you’ve already made a complaint to someone within the school, but you are unsatisfied with the outcome.

The first priority of JELS is to work within the system, write letters to the compliance officers, including the principal, and the school district, schedule meetings, provide solutions. Ideally, this will result in a change in the school atmosphere that makes school a safer learning environment for your child and all children.

During this process, complaints may be filed with the school district, the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, OSPI, and/or the Governor’s Office of Education Ombuds.

If none of this works, then there is the last resort of litigation, suing the school and the school district. This is a last resort because litigation takes a long time, as in years. (One example is the family of a former Bainbridge High School student filed a lawsuit for conduct that happened between September 2006 and January 2007, the lawsuit was filed in 2010 and the decision came down in 2013. In this case, the parents even contacted the police and the students were found guilty of criminal behavior.)

What can you do even without an attorney?

  • File a Complaint with the School
    • Schools should have their process for filing discrimination complaints clearly posted and regularly provide. Unfortunately, finding the Policies and Procedures is often challenging.
      • Tips for searching for policies:
        • Policies and Procedures are often located under the School District part of the School District webpage (as opposed to a specific school’s webpage). The policies and procedures are typically broken down by policy number series (1000, 2000, 3000, etc) The discrimination and bullying policies and procedures are typically in the 3000 series. A typical number for the Policies and Procedures are 3210 (General Discrimination and Harassment), 3700 and 5011 (Sexual Harassment),  3207 (Bullying)
        • You may also be able to use a “search” feature and you can use “discrimination” or “bullying.”
    •  Review the policies and have an understanding of your school is supposed  to respond. In your complaint outline what the policies says with regard to when and who is supposed to provide an answer/investigate. Keep in mind, schools have a lot of policies and procedures, and so it’s quite possible that the school official has no specific memory of what the requirements are, so remind them of what the policy and procedures say. Following the policies and procedures can be impossible (e.g. a school says a complaint must go to a Title IX officer but there is no Title IX officer listed on the schools site), if you encounter that problem, send the complaint to the superintendent and highlight for the superintendent that you cannot file the complaint as the policy requires because that position does not exist, so you are filing with the superintendent as they are a necessary part of any and all investigations. Ask them who is responsible for handling the case and that they forward your complaint to that person and cc you.
    • Always put communications in writing.  The biggest roadblock I hear happening to parents is that a parent has made a formal complaint in their mind, but the district claims no formal complaint was made because nothing was put in writing. This defense defies the reality of the experience of most parents with the school district and how often you have in person or phone conversations. The best way to insulate  yourself from this problem is to put things in writing. Email is often best for tracking communications. 
    • If have an in-person meeting or a phone call with the school, send a follow-up email outlining what you understand happened in the call, what you think the next steps are, and when you expect the next steps to be completed. Then follow-up when that next step was supposed to be completed. If you have an informal meeting with a teacher in the hall, follow-up via email, thanking the teacher for the time and summarizing your conversation.
    • If you file a hard copy complaint, make a copy and have someone at the school sign your copy saying that they received the original and the date they received it, consider scanning it and sending it in a follow-up email.
  • What should a complaint look like? 
    • The compliant should identify the incident that prompted the report (your child was teased for something by another child, pushed by another child, an adult did something, etc.). Include all the details you can – who witnessed the behavior, where it occurred, what happened right before and right after the incident.
    • Include information about any other incidents that have occurred and say whether complaints were made and what kind of complaints (the same or a different child has picked on your child and you talked to a teacher about it two other times, or if anyone else told you about experiences they’ve had with the same person who is targeting your child).
    • Is there any other information that might help an investigator understand the totality of the situation, did someone call a child a racially biased name after a lesson slavery or a conversation about Mexican food?
    • Do you have any ideas on what might help resolve the problem? Do you want more monitors (teachers, staff, etc.) around the buses at the end of the day because incidents keep happening? Do want a test moved to a day where you child won’t be fasting as a part of a religious observation? Do you want access to better equipment for your sports team? Do you want an apology? A joint meeting with the child and their family, facilitated by someone with experience and training in resolving disputes? Training for a teacher? Suspension for staff who engaged in discriminatory behavior? At this moment in time, there do not seem to be any specific solutions to specific problems, so think what might help your student.
  • Go to a Board meeting – the School Board is ultimately in charge of what happens in the schools. If you are having a problem and feel like it’s not being addressed go to a school boarding meeting and ask what the Board is doing to address the issue. If several people are having similar concerns and problems, have them join you at the meeting.
  • If your the Superintendent doesn’t respond or you don’t like their response, you can normally do an appeal to the school board, and then an appeal to OSPI.


  • File a Complaint with the Federal Government
    Seattle Office
    Office for Civil Rights
    U.S. Department of Education
    915 Second Avenue Room 3310
    Seattle, WA 98174-1099
    Telephone: 206-607-1600
    FAX: 206-607-1601; TDD: 800-877-8339


  • File a complaint with the Office of Education Ombuds with the Washington State Governor’s Office  
    • The Ombuds works to resolve complaints through alternative dispute resolution techniques. They have information available in multiple languages.
    • The Ombuds focuses on Language Access, the Opportunity Gap, Services for Students with Disabilities (Special Education), Suspension, Expulsions, and Discipline, Restraint and Isolation, Family Involvement, Bullying, Harassment, and Intimidation.
    • Website:
    • By Phone – Call us toll free at 1-866-297-2597 to set up a confidential appointment with an ombuds. Our staff can access phone interpretation for more than 150 languages.
    • By Fax or Mail – Download a Request for Ombuds Services form in English or Español and the Permission to Contact the School form in English or Español (this form allows OEO to discuss the student’s situation directly with school and district staff). Mail completed forms (address is printed on are on the forms) to OEO or fax them to us at 206-729-3251


  • Call the police. If physical assaults, including sexual assaults, are involved it is a criminal issue and the police have the authority to investigate.