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Steven A. Greenburg, Education Law
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Your child is getting bullied. Know what to do.

It's one of the more common complaints parents of children with special needs make about the public schools in California: Not enough is being done to protect their child from harassment and bullying by other students.

Know how to handle the situation

Parents who have raised a child with special needs know how to handle neighborhood kids. Often, it is a matter of talking to the offending children or getting their parents involved. But dealing with the problem through the formal complaint system set up by most school boards is an altogether different matter. Parents will be faced with red tape that can make the process feel as if it is moving at a snail's pace.

We'll use this post to explain some steps that most school boards will expect parents to go through when filing a formal complaint of harassment or bullying against their child.

First, what can you actually file a complaint about?

Children can be mean-spirited toward one another. Even if they know they can't get away with harassing a child due to a disability, their bullying may come out sideways, including teasing and harassment based on their physical appearance and disabilities, age difference relative to their classmates, clothing, assistive devices and association with friends who may also be in their special education group.

Stopping bullies is like treating cancer: Don't take half measures

It is important to remember that your child's school principal's priority may not match your own. If you have already complained to the teacher or the principal verbally, it is time to take it to the next level. According to the California ACLU, it is NOT A REQUIREMENT that you bring your initial complaint directly to the principal or teacher before addressing the issue with the school superintendent for your school district.

Follow the guidelines

The State of California employs a uniform process for filing a complaint regarding harassment, bullying and discrimination. Make yourself familiar with the process and follow the steps they recommend. Meanwhile, inform your child's teacher and principal that you have filed a complaint. Don't expect it to stop immediately or forever. The fact is, you are dealing with children who are doing the bullying. Some become bullies due to their own insecurities and emotional problems and may not understand the consequences.

Appealing the investigation

After filing a formal complaint, the school district has 60 days to respond with a written report of the investigation. Investigators say they take these problems seriously, but the superintendant's highest priority may be to protect teachers and the district's reputation more than your child's safety and well being. When you read the report be realistic about its findings, and be aggressive if you expect more and better results. You have the right to appeal your local school district's finding to the California Department of Education in Sacramento within 15 days of receiving the official investigation report.

Don't take shortcuts in the process and don't give up

Local school districts and the California Department of Education are large bureaucracies. Paperwork is passed around, forms are lost and the right hand may not know what the left hand is doing. Make sure you follow the step-by-step process fully and accurately. If you need to, get help filling out the complaint forms required.

It makes sense to discuss the matter with an experienced attorney in the field of special education law. Protect your child by learning what legal steps to discuss with the principal or school board if the bad behavior toward your child doesn't end immediately and protections are put in place to see that it won't start up again.

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