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Special Education Tip-of-the-Day: Filing a State Complaint

Accessibility, Education

By Rose Daly Rooney, Legal Director and Amanda Glass, Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that each state’s education agency develop several systems to address disputes that may arise between the families of students with disabilities and their schools. One required system is a mediation system, which was discussed in our last four blog posts. Another required system is the state complaint system.

IDEA also requires that the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) create a complaint system that allows individuals to report violations of IDEA. ADE is responsible for ensuring that public education agencies, including school districts and public charter schools, comply with IDEA. This means ADE is responsible for investigating complaints and ordering corrective action when its investigations discover noncompliance with the law.

ADE State Complaint Process

Who Can File a Complaint?

A state complaint may be submitted by any individual or organization that suspects a violation of IDEA. This means that in addition to parents, relatives, friends, advocates, judicial personnel, or even teachers can file a state complaint if they believe a school has violated special education law. Complaints cannot be made anonymously, so any person who submits a complaint must be willing to put their name on it.

What is the Deadline for Filing a Complaint?

A state complaint must be received by ADE no more than 1 year after the date that the last alleged occurrence noncompliance with IDEA took place. Any violation included in a complaint that occurred more than one year before the complaint was received will not be investigated by ADE.

What Happens After a Complaint is Filed?

Upon receiving a complaint, if ADE determines an investigation is necessary, ADE has 60 days to:

  • carry out an on-site investigation;
  • give the complainant the opportunity to submit additional information;
  • provide the school district with the opportunity to respond, including proposals to resolve the complaint or to engage in mediation;
  • make a determination as to whether there is been a violation of IDEA; and
  • issue a written decision.

What Happens if ADE Finds a Violation?

If a complaint investigation reveals a violation of IDEA, ADE must order the school to complete corrective action. Corrective action is meant to correct noncompliance and prevent it from happening again in the future. It is not intended to be a punishment for the school. Corrective action plans will vary based on the facts of the complaint and the violations discovered during the investigation process. For more information on what might be included in a state complaint corrective action plan, see our upcoming post on remedies.

How to File a State Complaint with ADE

If you decide you want to file a state complaint, you may use an online fillable form on ADE’s website, or you may draft a letter and mail or fax it to ADE. No matter how you submit it, your complaint should include the following:

  • A statement of how the school violated IDEA;
  • As many facts and details as possible about the violation;
  • The name of the student or students involved;
  • Date(s) of the violation(s) (to help ADE determine whether the violations took place within the 1-year time limit);
  • A proposed resolution of the problem;
  • Your contact information as the complainant; and
  • Your signature.

It is helpful to provide any evidence you have of the violation along with your complaint. For example, written communication from school personnel, copies of IEPs or service logs, and copies of communications parents or students have provided to the school can all be useful evidence.

When your complaint is ready, you can mail or fax it to:

Arizona Department of Education
Dispute Resolution Unit
1535 West Jefferson Street, Bin #62
Phoenix, Arizona 85007
FAX: (602) 364-0641

Note that when you file a state complaint you are required to forward a copy of the complaint to the school at the same time.

In our next blog post, we will explore state complaints further. We will examine what types of disputes are best suited to the state complaint system, the possibility of a resolution session, and what relief can be expected through the state complaint process.

Next Tip-of-the-Day: When to File a State Complaint

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