This article covers:
- Where Do Your Rights Come From?
- Key Educational Rights for Washington Families
- Making a Complaint
- Exercising Your Rights When a Problem Arises
Washington state does not have a specific "bill of rights" that covers all
parent and student interactions with schools. Instead, those rights are
contained in several sources:
- Statutes. Education laws established by the U.S. Congress or
the Washington State Legislature.
- Many federal education statutes (laws)
address the needs of particular student groups,
such as bilingual students and students with
disabilities. Examples of federal laws you may
encounter are the No Child Left Behind (NCLB)
and the Individuals with Disabilities Education
- Washington state education statues define
how our state's public education system
operates. They can be found in
Section 28A of the Revised Code of Washington.
- Regulations. Rules and procedures for how a law will be put
into practice and how the government will make sure that the law
is followed. State regulations concerning education can be found
in the Washington
- State and Local Policies. Rules and procedures created by
government agencies and organizations.
Student rights are protected by
Washington Administrative Code 392-400-215.
Here is a sampling of important rights of parents and students in Washington
state public schools. You have more rights than described here. If your
situation is not included below, contact the Office of the Education Ombudsman
to find out about rights that protect you.
Enrollment in School
- The Washington Constitution provides all children with the right to a free public education through 12th grade. Schools can't remove students from school without providing the family an opportunity to object.
- Students have the right to promptly enroll in the school
district where they live, even if they are homeless or in foster
- First-time enrollment requires a birth certificate and proof
of immunization. A family can ask for an exception to
immunization requirements because of religious or personal
- Schools cannot require proof of citizenship or immigration
status to enroll in school.
Attendance and Truancy (The Becca Bill)
- All children from age 8 to 17 must attend a public school, private school or a district-approved home school program. If parents enroll a 6- or 7-year-old child in public school, the student must attend full-time.
- Parents have the right to be informed when their student
misses school without an excuse.
- After a student has two or more unexcused absences, schools
must set up a meeting with parents to develop a plan to help the
student get to school.
- If the school files a truancy petition, parents have the
right to appear with the student in juvenile court.
- Schools should provide students and families with a copy of the school rules so that they know what behavior is expected. Many teachers also have classroom rules that outline expectations for student behavior.
- If a student misbehaves at school, teachers and
administrators can use a variety of methods to correct the
inappropriate behavior. However, corporal punishment is against
the law in Washington state public schools.
- If a student is disciplined at school, parents and the
student have a right to know what the student is accused of
doing wrong, which rules allegedly were broken, and what the
consequences will be.
- Schools must notify parents or guardians when a student is
expelled or suspended for more than one school day.
- Students and parents have the right to challenge a school’s
consequence but must do it quickly, usually within three days.
Discrimination and Bullying
- Discrimination occurs when a person is treated differently than others because of the person’s race, color, creed, national origin, sex, religion, disability, use of a trained guide dog or service animal by a person with a disability, or sexual orientation/gender identity. Students and families have the right to be free from discrimination and harassment in public schools.
- Schools are required to have policies and procedures to
address bullying and harassment of students.
- Parents have a right to home school children in a district-approved program.
- Home school programs must meet standards for the
instructor’s qualifications and the subjects taught.
Services for Students With Disabilities
- Parents have the right to ask the school district to assess their student if they suspect the child has a disability that interferes with learning.
- A district can conduct a special education evaluation only
with parents’ permission.
- Parents have a right to be part of the team that creates an
individualized education plan (IEP) for a student with a
disability. An IEP outlines what the school will do to help the
student make progress.
- Students with disabilities have a right to be placed in a
regular classroom setting whenever possible.
- The school cannot suspend or expel a student for behavior
related to a disability.
- Parents have a right to resolve disputes through free
special education mediation or a due process hearing.
Programs for English Language Learners
- When a family speaks a language other than English at home, the school should test the students' English abilities within their first 10 days in school to facilitate appropriate placement in a school program for English language learners.
- Students who need help with written or spoken English have a
right to be taught in a transitional bilingual education
program. The purpose of bilingual programs is to teach students
English and to make sure they do not fall behind in other
subjects (such as history and math) while learning the language.
- Parents have a right not to enroll students in bilingual
Families and students can make a formal complaint to a school district if a
school or district official is not following a law or policy. Most districts
have a formal complaint policy and a system to receive complaints. These
policies often require parents to put complaints in writing.
Parents, guardians and students can file a confidential complaint against a
school or district with the Office of the Education Ombudsman.
Parents or students who believe they were harassed or treated differently
than others based on race, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation or
another reason have a right to file a complaint with the
Washington State Human
Rights Commission or the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights.
When you are confronted with a problem involving a school, ask these
- What law, regulation or policy applies to my situation?
- Has a law or policy been violated?
- Where does the law or policy come from? Is it a state law, a
school or district policy, or a federal law?
How you go
about solving the problem, and who can help, will depend on your knowledge of
your rights and the answers to these questions. When you find out the answers to
these questions, you will have a better idea of how to get the results you want,
so that your student has the best opportunity to succeed at school. If you are
in doubt, contact the Office of the Education Ombudsman.
- Parents have the right to review their student’s education records.
- Schools cannot release a student’s education records to
anyone else without written permission from the parent or
Washington Public Records Act requires schools,
districts and school boards to provide public access to their
Washington Open Public Meetings Act requires state and
local school boards to conduct official business in meetings
that are open to the public and announced in advance.
For more information, visit the Washington State Office of the Education
Ombudsman. OEO is a state agency in the Governor’s Office, separate from the
public education system.
Office of the Education Ombudsman
Toll free: (866) 297-2597
Fax: (360) 586-0052
Other publication produced by the OEO:
- Make the Most of a Parent-Teacher Conference
- Bullying at School
- How Does a School District Work?
- Resolving Conflict at School
- And much more