Communities trust schools to provide a safe educational environment for all children, but sometimes things go wrong.
When bullying occurs in public or charter school settings, parents have legal options to problem solve effectively. California education code (EDC 48900) defines bullying as when one party experiences discrimination, harassment, intimidation, or physical aggression on the basis of a disability, immigration status, gender identity, religion, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. It also applies whenever a seemingly powerful person uses words, force, or more subtle methods to hurt someone or keep a person from fully participating in a class or activity.
As a parent, when an incident occurs what do you do? First, with your child, write down a detailed account including the incident information, the date and time, and any witnesses. Get the unvarnished truth and try to look at it from both sides, because any investigation will uncover this information and you want to know everything that happened. Talk with your child and determine a realistic remedy you both will accept.
What is a realistic solution? Each year, parents sign agreements to abide by the California educational legislation defining parent, student, and school rights (similar to driver’s license agreements). The Education Code includes EDC 44807 charging teachers and administrators to serve in loco parentis over students during any school activity. The law is meant to keep children safe in many school situations directing teachers and administration to use any lawful means to correct unacceptable behavior during school activities, including removing phones and personal items. A guardian can request services and actions from the school, but cannot determine employment status or disciplinary measures. Solutions can include conferences or updating school policies for clarity. Extreme situations require reporting violence and abuse to social services and law enforcement.
Parents with less extreme situations and a resolution plan start the informal solution process by contacting the classroom teacher where the incident occurred while including the school principal in all emails. An initial informal communication should receive a response within 48 (business) hours.
At FJUHSD, if the informal complaint outcome for bullying or program participation prevention is unsatisfactory, all parties may file a Uniform Complaint Form (UCF) within 6 months of the incident. Grades, discipline, and class assignments are internal district matters, but all parties should be treated respectfully and fairly during the process, and instances of bullying or intimidation fall under the UCF.
The Uniform Complaint Form applies to any person (student, or adult) experiencing bullying, harassment, or discrimination from participating in any federally, or state-funded programs. The UCF requires a written account of the incident as well as an account of any attempts at resolution or repercussions. The UCF begins a formal procedure with a set timeframe that gives everyone the ability to report, investigate, and address instances of discriminatory actions in the education setting.
The district has 60 days to investigate and respond to any written complaints. After the district announces their findings, if the complainant still feels this issue is unresolved, they can file a written appeal with the California Department of Education within 15 days of the district ruling further explaining their case.
High school student parents often encounter resistance to get involved informally or formally, or they are concerned about their children experiencing repercussions if they speak out against perceived unjust situations, yet this should not prevent responsible advocacy.
The complaint process takes time and effort to find lasting equitable solutions but restoring a safe and nondiscriminatory education environment for children is imperative, particularly when these situations will continue to happen if no one stands up to keep school environments safe for all students and educators.