Special Education Complaints

How to File a Special Education Complaint for Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) (Ages 3-21)

State Complaint Procedures

Division of Compliance and Assistance Dispute Resolution Team

October 2014

I. Overview of State Complaints

What is a written special education state complaint?

Why do you investigate complaints?

What should I do before filing a complaint?

Who can file a complaint?

Who can I file a complaint against?

What if the child attends a private school or homeschool?

Why file a complaint?

What reasons might I have for filing a complaint?

What if I have another concern?

II. How to File a Complaint

I believe I have a complaint. What do I do?

How far back can my complaint go?

Do I need to send a copy of my complaint to the school?

How do I file my complaint with you?

III. Complaint Investigation Process and Timeline

What is the timeline for complaint investigations?

What happens during a complaint investigation?

IV. Complaint Decisions

How do I get a copy of your decision?

Why might you dismiss my complaint?

What happens if the school did not do anything wrong?

What happens if MDE agrees with me (the school violated the law)?

How do you make sure the school fixes the problem?

How do I appeal your decision?

V. Other Options for Resolving the Dispute

Can I also use facilitated team meetings or mediation?

Why might I consider mediation?

Why might I consider a facilitated team meeting?

What about due process hearings?

VI. Additional considerations

Do I need an attorney?

What costs do I need to pay to file a complaint?

How can I speak to someone at MDE about my complaint?

Do you provide interpreters for other languages?

Where can I go for more information or for help in filing a complaint?

I. Overview of State Complaints

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What is a written special education state complaint?

When you file a special education complaint with the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE), you are asking us to investigate your concerns and decide if a school violated special education law. You must put your complaint into writing.

If we agree with your complaint, we can tell the school to provide training to its staff members and/or to provide a child with make-up services.

Why do you investigate complaints?

The federal regulations to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) give us the authority to review special education complaints. For more information, you can review the regulations listed in 34 C.F.R. §§ 300.151-153. Access the Federal Regulations.

What should I do before filing a complaint?

We encourage you to call the school first to let them know of your concerns. The school may be able to help resolve your concerns. View the Special Education Directors web page list. You may also want to consider other options to resolve the dispute.

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Who can file a complaint?

Any person can file a special education complaint with us. You do not have to be a parent. Organizations can file complaints.

Who can I file a complaint against?

You can file a complaint against a district or public agency. This includes charter schools. This does not include individual school staff members.

What if the child attends a private school or homeschool?

You can file a complaint against the public school. Children attending private schools and homeschools continue to have special education rights that public schools must follow.

Why file a complaint?

Individuals file complaints when they believe a school did not follow special education laws for one child, or a group of children. You can contact us at 651-582-8689 to see if your concern is appropriate for the state complaint process.

What reasons might I have for filing a complaint?

• You believe the school did not follow timelines or procedures consistent with special education laws.

• You believe the school violated special education law when a child with a disability was suspended or removed from school.

• You disagree with a decision regarding your child’s qualification for special education or related services (reading, math, occupational therapy, speech language, etc.).

• You believe the school is not providing the services included in a child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP).

• You have a system-wide concern about more than one child receiving special education services.

• You believe a child did not receive a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).

• You believe that the school is not following the decision of an impartial hearing officer.

• Other concerns about a child’s special education.

What if I have another concern?

We investigate special education issues. A list of other types of concerns and contacts is below:

• Section 504 concerns – MDE Methods of Assurance and Section 504 Coordinator; carolyn.ellstra@state.mn.us or 651.582.8366

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II. How to File a Complaint

I believe I have a complaint. What do I do?

You can use our complaint form to file a complaint with MDE. It has all of the information you need to include in the complaint.

If you do not use our complaint form, you will need to send us a signed letter that has:

• A statement that a school has not followed a requirement of special education law.
• Facts that support your statement.
• Your signature and contact information (go to next step if your complaint is about a specific child)

And when the complaint is about one specific child (most complaints are), you must have:

• The child’s name and address, or the contact information for a homeless child.
• The name of the child’s school.
• A description of the problem, including facts relating to the problem.
• Suggestions on how to solve the problem.

How far back can my complaint go?

We can look back one calendar year from the date we receive your complaint.

Do I need to send a copy of my complaint to the school?

Yes. You need to send a copy of your complaint to the school at the same time that you send us your complaint. You can send it to the superintendent or special education director. View the Special Education Directors List. If your complaint does not specify that you also sent it to the school, we will send a copy electronically to the school within one business day.

How do I file my complaint with you?

Mail, hand-deliver, fax, or scan and email your complaint to:

Minnesota Department of Education

Special Education Dispute Resolution Supervisor

Division of Compliance and Assistance

1500 Highway 36 West

Roseville, MN 55113-4266

651-582-8725 (Fax)

651-582-8459 (Questions only, complaints must be written.)

651-582-8201 (TTY)

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III. Complaint Investigation Process and Timeline

What is the timeline for complaint investigations?

We have 60 calendar days from the date we receive your complaint to finish the complaint investigation and write our decision. If there are exceptional circumstances, we may take more time. We may also take more time if you and the school agree to put the complaint on hold during mediation, or if there is a due process hearing pending. We will contact you in writing if the complaint timeline changes.

What happens during a complaint investigation?

• We assign a complaint investigator to work on your complaint.
• The complaint investigator contacts you to let you know we have your complaint. The complaint investigator talks to you about the claims, facts, or issues that are appropriate to investigate. The complaint investigator will also provide you with mediation information.
• The complaint investigator will contact the special education director to see if the issues can be resolved informally.
• The complaint investigator will send a letter to the school with details about the original complaint and any new information or allegations shared through discussions with you (the complainant).
• The complaint investigator reviews the documents and determines the scope of the investigation. The investigation may include an onsite visit to review documents and/or interview staff, telephone interviews, or review of additional documentation.
• During the complaint investigation, you have the opportunity to submit additional information. You can do this either over the telephone, via email or in a letter.
• MDE will review all relevant information and make an independent decision about whether the school violated special education law.

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IV. Complaint Decisions

How do I get a copy of your decision?

We will mail you and the school a copy of the final decision. If you are not the child’s parent, you may not receive all or part of the decision to protect the privacy of the child. The decision includes findings of facts and conclusions, and the reasons for our final decision. The final decision is in effect and binding when issued. This means that if there is a violation and we tell the school to fix the problem, the school must do so.

Why might you dismiss my complaint?

We may dismiss your complaint if the alleged violation does not involve special education law, regulation, or rule, or if the alleged violation falls outside of the one-calendar-year complaint period. We may also dismiss your complaint if you let us know in writing that the complaint is withdrawn. This happens if you and the school reach an informal agreement or an agreement through mediation. Dismissals may also occur when the alleged violation was resolved in an earlier due process hearing or state complaint.

What happens if the school did not do anything wrong?

If we do not find violations of special education law, we send out the decision saying there was no violation and then close the file.

What happens if MDE agrees with me (the school violated the law)?

If the school violated special education law, we may develop an action plan to fix the problem. This action plan addresses any harm to the child, which may include additional programming or other make up services. The action plan also addresses any school noncompliance; for example, by requiring staff training. We include this action plan in our decision.

How do you make sure the school fixes the problem?

The school must complete corrective action according to the decision. In any event, the school must complete all corrective action within one calendar year of the complaint decision. We will check in with the school to monitor the corrective action. If the school fails to complete the corrective action, we will work with the school to make sure they have fulfilled their responsibilities and then close the file. We will send you a letter when the file is closed.

How do I appeal your decision?

You can appeal to the Minnesota Court of Appeals within 60 calendar days of receiving a copy of the final decision. You can talk to an attorney about whether an appeal is appropriate.

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V. Other Options for Resolving the Dispute

Can I also use facilitated team meetings or mediation?

Yes. You can use facilitated team meetings or mediation instead of, or in addition, to a complaint investigation. Both options are free. You and the school must agree to use either of these options.

Additional information about facilitated team meetings and mediation is available on our Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) page. You can also contact our ADR coordinator, Patricia McGinnis at 651-582-8222.

Why might I consider mediation?

Mediation gives you and the school the chance to work with a neutral mediator to try to fix a problem. Mediation can cover more topics than a special education complaint and may be quicker.

Why might I consider a facilitated team meeting?

A facilitated team meeting gives you and your team the chance to work with a neutral facilitator who will help you solve any disagreements as you work through the IEP process.

What about due process hearings?

Due process hearings can review issues that are up to two years old. If you bring the same issues to a due process hearing and a complaint investigation, the complaint will remain on hold until the due process hearing ends. You can access information about due process hearings on our Special Education Hearings page.

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VI. Additional considerations

Do I need an attorney?

No. You do not need an attorney to write a special education complaint. It may be helpful to talk with someone who knows about the process ahead of time. We include a list of advocacy and legal services at the end of this document.

What costs do I need to pay to file a complaint?

None.

How can I speak to someone at MDE about my complaint?

If you need any help with this document or with filling a complaint, contact us:

By email at: mde.compliance-assistance@state.mn.us

By telephone at: 651-582-8689

651-582-8201 (TTY)

Do you provide interpreters for other languages?

Call us at 651-582-8689 and let us know if you would like an interpreter. We can also provide translated documents if needed.

Where can I go for more information or for help in filing a complaint?

Below is a list of resources and contact information for advocacy and legal services:

• The Procedural Safeguards Notice contains information about special education procedures.
• The local school district special education department. Access the Special Education Directors list.
The ARC of Minnesota (advocacy for persons with developmental disabilities); 800-582-5256.

Minnesota Disability Law Center; 800-292-4150.

PACER (Parent Advocacy Coalition for Educational Rights); 800-53-PACER (800-537-2237). PACER also helps parents write complaints.