Grievances are more complicated than you might think.

The grievance process is supposed to be simple.  We don’t normally think of a Level I grievance as encrusted with a lot of legal protocol and vocabulary. But a decision from the Commissioner may cause you to reexamine that belief. 

The Commissioner ruled that he did not have jurisdiction to hear a parent complaint about a student’s GPA because the parent did not “exhaust administrative remedies” at the district level.  So the parent complaint was dead on arrival at T.E.A. 

I have read hundreds of local grievance policies and never seen the term “exhaust administrative remedies” in any of them.  But the Commissioner holds that a grievant has to “exhaust” the local remedies and this involves more than simply getting your case before the school board. You have to say the right words.  You have to spell it out for the school board.  And you might have to do that even before it gets to the board at Level III.

Here’s how the Commissioner reached this conclusion:

*The Commissioner has very limited jurisdiction.  In a parent appeal like this, the Commissioner only has jurisdiction to consider possible violations of the “school laws” of Texas—meaning Title I and II of the Education Code.

*The grievant has the responsibility to specifically identify the school laws that have allegedly been violated. 

*The grievant also has the responsibility to explain exactly how the laws were violated, and to  identify the facts that show this to be the case.

*The grievant has to do this at Level III—the hearing before the local school board. 

*The grievant also has to comply with the district’s policy. In this case, the policy said that the Level III hearing was “limited to the issues and documents considered at Level II.”  That is a very common provision in local grievance policies.

So do you see where that puts our grieving parent?  The parent could not bring up alleged violations of “the school laws” of Texas at T.E.A. because she had not done it at Level III, at least not properly.  She could not bring up alleged violations of the school laws of Texas at Level III  because she had not been brought them up at Level II. 

At Level III the parent did use the magic words about the “school laws of Texas,” but still fell short.  The Commissioner said that the parent:

failed to properly describe her claims.  While Petitioner cites five sections of the Texas Education Code, Petitioner did not explain how these cited sections were violated.  Petitioner never placed the school district on notice as to what her claims were.

What this case means in practice is that school district lawyers will likely file Motions to Dismiss appeals before the Commissioner if the complaining party has not appropriately jumped through all of the hoops, beginning as early as Level II. 

The case is Parent v. Eanes ISD, decided by the Commissioner on September 17, 2018, Docket No. 050-R10-04-2018.


Enjoy the weekend, Readers!  And get ready for Valentine’s Day before it’s too late!