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How to Exercise Your Rights

Filed under: Parenting, Schools

In addition to understanding the laws that are on your side, there are three practical steps that you should take to protect your child's right to a safe school experience. They are:

  1. Make yourself known before a problem develops.
    • If you are raising a child and you have a  same-sex or transgender partner, make your family structure clear to the school and establish the fact that both of you are parents to your son or daughter. This will help to secure the right for each of you to advocate on behalf of your child. One simple way to do so:  Make sure that both parents' names appear on all school forms that ask for the name of the child's "mother" and "father."
    • Take advantage of opportunities to meet with your child's teachers and school administrators. Keeping in touch about what's going on at the school, as well as your own child's progress, can give you a sense of your child's daily experience. It can also alert you to potential or developing problems before they become crises. Moreover, if the lines of communication with teachers and administrators are open and well-established, it will be easier to discuss and solve problems if and when they arise.
  2. Talk to the appropriate authority if a problem develops

    If your child is facing harassment at school, first try to deal directly with the school representative closest to the issue. For example, if incidents of harassment are taking place within a specific classroom, talk with the classroom teacher. If he or she is unable or unwilling to address the problem adequately, begin moving up the ladder of responsibility within the school. Typically, the ladder proceeds as follows:
    • Teacher
    • Department head
    • Assistant principal
    • Principal
    • Superintendent of schools
    • State education department
      Plan carefully for any meetings you have about these issues. Consider beforehand: What points do you want to make? What outcome are you seeking? And how can the person you are meeting with help to solve the problem?

      For example, you might pursue this five-fold strategy:
    • Explain what is happening to your child
    • Ask the school representative to help keep your child safe and to specify what steps they will take to do so
    • Ask how the matter will be investigated and what punishment the offenders will face
    • Ask for a copy of the policy that documents how harassment complaints are handled
    • Determine for yourself whether your complaint is being handled in a consistent matter

      After the meeting, write a letter to document what was discussed and agreed to and offer your thanks for their help. Also be sure to keep a log of all meetings, including whom you met with and when, and copies of any correspondence you have with teachers or administrators about the problem. Such records will be very important if you decide that you must take legal action.
  3. Take legal action if necessary
    If you have exhausted all efforts to resolve the problem by working within the school system, you may want to consider taking legal action against the school. Here's how:

    To File a Title IX Complaint Through the Government
    You can file a complaint by writing a letter to your local Office of Civil Rights (OCR) in the U.S. Department of Education. The OCR advises that you include:
    • Your name, address and phone number
    • A basic description of the individual believed to have been harassed: For example, is he or she gay or lesbian or perceived to be such? (Names are not required)
    • Name and location of the school
    • Description of the incident(s), including when they occurred and what you believe to be the reason for them.

      Visit the OCR Enforcement Offices database to find an office near you.

      To file a complaint through a group that fights for lesbian and gay rights. The following organizations may be able to help:
    • Lambda Legal
    • The American Civil Liberties Union
    • The National Center for Lesbian Rights