What is a Grievance, and How Do I File One?

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Disability Rights Texas Handout

Created 8/13/2020
Publication Code: ED24

How to File a Grievance

This handout can be made available in Braille or audio file upon request.

  • Are you concerned about how a situation is being handled at your student’s school?
  • Do you have questions about how to report your concerns?
  • Do I need to have an attorney get involved?

This handout can help answer your questions.

What is a grievance?

A grievance is the school district’s formal complaint process. You can file a grievance when you think the school has violated your child’s rights under the Texas Education Code, your district’s student code of conduct, your district’s board policies, or the Constitution. It is your school district’s time to stop, look, and listen to your concerns. It forces the district to formally respond to you within a fixed timeline when your informal attempts at resolving a problem have failed.

It is very important to pay attention to the timelines for a grievance in your district, which can be found in the FNG (LOCAL) policy on your school district’s board policy website. You are usually required to file a grievance within 10–15 days after learning about the issue which is the subject of your grievance.

Does my school district have a grievance policy? How do I find it? 

Every district is required to have a grievance policy. Although not all Texas school districts have their board policies available online, most do. The grievance policy for your district is probably available on your district’s board policy website under “FNG (LOCAL).” You can usually find your district’s board policies by searching for your district’s name and board policy manual. For example, if your child attends Austin Independent School District and you want to find their board policy manual online, conduct a Google search for “Austin Independent School District board policy manual.” Then search within the board policy manual website for “FFI (LOCAL).

How do I file a grievance?

Before filing a grievance, you should almost always attempt to informally solve a problem first by discussing it with your school’s administration. This is important because the grievance form usually asks you about your informal attempts at resolving your problem.

Note that your informal attempts to solve a problem should be documented in some way so that you have proof of your attempts at informal resolution to submit as evidence with your grievance form. You can obtain proof by sending emails to your school’s administration so that you have a written record of your discussions with school administrators.

If you plan to file a grievance, consider hiring an attorney who specializes in school law to guide you through the process. You’ll need your district’s grievance form to get started. The grievance form is usually available online on your school district’s main website. However, you can also ask the administration at your child’s school for the FNG (LOCAL) grievance form. The administration at your child’s school should know what a grievance is and should be able to provide you with the form, but if they refuse to give you the form, note the date and time of the conversation, along with what was said. Then call the district administration and ask where you can find the FNG (LOCAL) grievance form. After you receive the form, include your child’s principal’s refusal to provide you with the form in your grievance as part of your complaint.

Once you have the grievance form, fill it out. It will ask you for some basic information, like your child’s name, date of birth, and campus. It will also ask you about the nature of the issue and any informal attempts you’ve made at resolving the issue. Sometimes the spaces on the form are very limited. If you need to write something longer to explain the problem, you can write “see attached” instead in the blank, and then you can attach a longer explanation to the form. Click here for an example of a grievance form.

Make sure that you are professional and clear in your grievance. Stick to the facts of the issue and the ways in which your child has been affected. You will get a chance to add more details and discuss more at the grievance conference.

What are the steps in a grievance?

There are three levels to the grievance process. Not all grievances will progress through each level.

Level 1: At level one, you should submit your grievance to your campus administration via email. If you do not have access to email, you can physically take in the form and submit it in person, but you should ask for a written receipt with a date so that you have proof that you filed it and that they received it. Typically the campus must schedule a conference with you within 10 business days of the filing.

At the conference, you will present your evidence and explain your issue. This is where an attorney can be extremely helpful, but if you are handling your own grievance, make sure to bring copies of any evidence you want the district to consider, and make sure to say everything you want the district to know and consider. At level two and three of the grievance process, the district can only consider the evidence and information you provided at your level one grievance conference.

After your level one grievance conference, the district must typically issue a written response within 10 business days. If they provide a written response but you disagree with their decision, you can file a level two grievance. If they do not issue a written response within the appropriate timeline, you can also file a level two grievance.

Level 2: Note that you must file a level two grievance in a timely manner, which usually means within 10 days of receipt of the district’s level one decision.

The level two grievance is typically filed with the superintendent’s office. You will then get a conference with someone from your superintendent’s office, generally within 10 days after filing the level two grievance. Sometimes it is the superintendent, but it could also be an assistant superintendent or another designated official from the superintendent’s office. The level two conference is limited to the evidence and issues you discussed at the level one conference. You will not be allowed to submit additional evidence or discuss additional issues unless you request permission to do so and your district agrees to allow it. Before the level two conference, you should ask for a copy of the level one record. The level one record will help you prepare for the level two conference.

After your level two conference, the district generally must provide a written response within 10 business days. If you disagree with the district’s decision in their written response, you can file a level three grievance to appeal the level two decision to the school board.

Level 3: Note that you must file a level three grievance in a timely manner, which usually means within 10 days of receipt of the district’s level two decision. You can also file a level three grievance if the district does not provide a written response within the appropriate timeline. The level three grievance is submitted to the superintendent’s office, who will then schedule a level three conference with you. The level three grievance conference will either be in front of the school board itself or with a hearing officer who reports to the board. This is your final level of appeal through the district’s grievance process.

If your level three grievance conference is in front of the school board for your district, it is typically more formal than the other conferences and involves formal opening and closing statements. School board trustees may even ask you questions about the issue. If you have not had an attorney through the grievance process, you may want to consider hiring one who specializes in school law for the level three grievance conference.

After level three, there are usually no other remedies within the school district. If you disagree with your district’s level three decision, consult with an attorney who specializes in school law to see if there are any other possibilities or if you have any potential claims against your school district in court.

Note that all of the timelines mentioned above may vary for your specific district. Check your district’s FNG (LOCAL) policy to become familiar with your district’s timelines and to make sure that you do not miss any deadlines.