How to file a Special Education Community Complaint

Read this in: Spanish / Español

Read this if you are concerned about a child’s special education and wants to file a formal complaint. #1310EN

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Yes, you should read this if you live in Washington State and you're concerned about your child's special education. You'll learn what a Community Complaint is, how to file one, other complaint options, and where to find legal help.

If a school district or state agency breaks (violates) a state or federal special education law or rule, you can make a formal written complaint, called a Special Education Community Complaint. Or you can file this Complaint if a district or agency doesn't follow (doesn't comply with) a mediation or resolution agreement.

You can file a Community Complaint against the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), an educational service district, a school district, or a public agency serving special education students, including Washington public charter schools.

Yes. You have 1 year to file this complaint after the violation or problem happens. If a school district or other agency violates a law or breaks a term of a mediation agreement, you have 1 year from when that happened to file your Complaint.

Not necessarily. You just need to make a Community Complaint in writing. You must sign it. You can use your own paper. If you do, you must include all the information listed below.

OSPI has a form you can use (but you don't have to). OSPI has forms in several languages and instructions for using them at

First, you must put your name, address, and other contact information. You must put contact info for the student. The complaint must state the name of the school district or agency you believe has done something wrong.

Your complaint must state that the school district or other agency violated the law or an agreement. It should say that the district violated at least 1 requirement of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), or that the agency isn't following a mediation or resolution agreement.

* You don't need to know the exact rule or law you think the district or agency is violating. Just describe what you believe the district or agency is doing wrong. OSPI should identify the issue for investigation.

Your complaint should also give a detailed timeline of factual events. Start with a general statement of the problem. Then start with the very first thing that happened. Describe the situation step by step up to the date you're writing the complaint. For example, if you had a conversation with a school principal about your child's education, put the date and time, if possible, when the conversation happened, and what everyone said. Then put what happened next.

If there are important documents (for example, letters from the school or your child's Individual Education Plan or IEP), state the names of those important documents. You must include enough information so OSPI can decide whether to investigate.

Finally, you must propose a solution to the problem. What do you want to see changed? Put what you want to see happen.

You must send it to OSPI and send a copy to the school district's superintendent or the public agency's chief officer. If your complaint is against a charter school, send a copy to the school's principal. The complaint must list the date you mailed or delivered a copy of the complaint to the superintendent, chief officer, or charter school's principal.

If you don't know the address of the superintendent or head of the agency or charter school, call them to ask where to send Community Complaints. Or you can look up a school's district's info at OSPI's website. For information about Washington's charter schools, read Explore Schools on the Washington State Charter School Association's website.

Keep a copy of the Complaint for your records. Then mail or fax your complaint to OSPI at:

Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction
Attn: Special Education
P.O. Box 47200
Olympia, WA 98504-7200

Fax: (360) 586-0247

First, OSPI will review your complaint and supporting documents. It will decide if your complaint states a possible violation of law or agreement that requires a formal investigation.

If OPSI decides your complaint does not show a possible violation, OSPI will send you a letter explaining why they're not going to investigate. If OSPI decides your complaint does show a possible violation of law or agreement, OSPI will open a formal investigation.

First, OSPI sends the school district or agency a letter saying that OSPI has opened a complaint investigation. OSPI asks the district or agency for a written response and supporting proof. The district or agency has 20 days to respond.

Then, OSPI reviews the response and mail you a copy of it. It will include the name and contact info of the OSPI investigator assigned to your complaint. Once you get this, you have only 10 calendar days to respond further with any additional information. If you need more than 10 days, let the OSPI investigator know as soon as possible, and explain why. OSPI may grant you more time (called an extension).

OSPI then reviews all the information from you and the school district or agency. OSPI might ask you, the district, or the agency to clarify or provide more information.

Within 60 days of the date that you filed your complaint, OSPI should mail a written decision to you and the school district or agency. OSPI can extend this time if there are exceptional circumstances. Or you and the district or agency can agree in writing to extend the timelines to resolve the dispute through an alternative process, such as mediation. Read Mediation: Should I use it? To learn more.

OSPI can order remedies for just one student or for an entire school district or agency. The solution OSPI orders will be based on the nature of the circumstances behind a complaint.

Yes. OSPI keeps an online record of summaries and copies of decisions from other people's Community Complaints under  Special Education Community Complaint Decisions on their website.

You may also have the right to ask for a Due Process Hearing. This is different from OSPI investigating. An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) holds a hearing on issues about the identification, evaluation, educational placement, or provision of a Free Appropriate Public Education of a student.

First, it depends on the reason for your complaint. Second, the 2 options have different requirements. Read Special Education Issues: Things Parents and Caregivers Can Do to learn more about the differences between the two.

You have the right to file a Community Complaint that relates to a violation of a special education law or rule or failure to comply with a mediation or resolution agreement.

You have the right to ask for a Due Process Hearing if your complaint relates to the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of a student or the provision of a Free Appropriate Public Education.

A Community Complaint is an investigation conducted by the OSPI, based on documents: your complaint, letters, and any other papers from you and the school district or agency. A Due Process Hearing is a formal legal proceeding in front of a ALJ. The ALJ looks at evidence such as written documents, and hears from witnesses who testify for you or the school district or agency.

If you want to ask for a Due Process Hearing, try to get legal help as soon as possible. See contact info below.

Contact the OSPI Equity and Civil Rights Office and/or the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights:

Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction
Equity and Civil Rights Office
P.O. Box 47200
Olympia, WA 98504-7200

Phone: 360-725-6162
FAX: 360-664-2967
TTY: 360-664-3631

U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights
915 Second Avenue, Room 3310
Seattle, WA 98174-1099

Phone: 206-607-1600
TDD: 206-607-1601

Get Legal Help

Visit Northwest Justice Project to find out how to get legal help. 

Download | Printer-friendly PDF

Last Review and Update: Nov 17, 2023
Was this information helpful?
Back to top