Charter School Office

BOARD OF REGENTS GUIDELINES FOR PROCESSING COMPLAINTS RECEIVED PURSUANT TO EDUCATION LAW SECTION 2855(4)

Introduction
General Requirements
Complaint Investigation and Response

Introduction

Section 2855(4) of the Charter Schools Act provides that any individual or group may bring a complaint to a charter school’s board of trustees ("charter school board") alleging a violation of the Charter Schools Act, the charter school’s charter, or any other provision of law relating to the management or operation of the charter school. If the individual or group determines that the charter school board has not adequately addressed the complaint, the individual or group may then present the complaint to the entity that authorized the charter school ("charter entity"). If the charter entity is not the Board of Regents (i.e., the Board of Trustees of the State University of New York, the Chancellor of the New York City Public School District, or the board of education of a school district), and the individual or group determines that the charter entity has not adequately addressed the complaint, the individual or group may then present the complaint to the Board of Regents.

Board of Regents Rule 8 NYCRR § 3.16 delegates to the Commissioner of Education ("the Commissioner") the authority to receive, investigate, and respond to complaints, and issue appropriate remedial orders on behalf of the Board of Regents. Accordingly, these guidelines generally refer to the Commissioner, as opposed to the Board of Regents.

The following guidelines, which are in the form of answers to frequently asked questions, are designed to assist those groups or individuals who wish to present their complaint to the Commissioner.

General Requirements

1. When can a complaint under Education Law § 2855(4) be presented to the Commissioner?

If the charter entity for the charter school against which the complaint is brought is not the Board of Regents, the Commissioner will act on the complaint only after each of the following has occurred: (A) the complainant has brought the complaint to the charter school board; (B) the complainant has determined that the charter school board has not adequately addressed the complaint (see question 2 below concerning the amount of time a charter school board should be provided to address the complaint); (C) the complainant has subsequently presented the complaint to the charter entity; and (D) the complainant has determined that the charter entity has not adequately addressed the complaint.

If the charter entity for the charter school against which the complaint is brought is the Board of Regents, the Commissioner will act on the complaint only after each of the following has occurred: (A) the complainant has brought the complaint to the charter school board; and (B) the complainant has determined that the charter school board has not adequately addressed the complaint (see question 2 below concerning the amount of time a charter school board should be provided to address the complaint).

Accordingly, a group or individual should normally file an Education Law § 2855(4) complaint with the Commissioner only after the charter school board has acted on the complaint and provided a final response to the complainant. In addition, if the Board of Regents is not the charter entity for the charter school against which the complaint is brought, a group or individual should normally file an Education Law § 2855(4) complaint with the Commissioner only after the charter entity has acted on the complaint and provided a final response to the complainant. It should be noted that the Board of Regents, the Commissioner, and State Education Department have the authority to investigate and take action respecting charter schools outside of the context of an Education Law § 2855(4) complaint. For example, Education Law § 2853(2) provides that "Oversight by a charter entity and the board of regents shall be sufficient to ensure that the charter school is in compliance with all applicable laws, regulations and charter provisions." See also question 9 below concerning complaints related to students with disabilities.)

Each charter school, as part of its charter, has agreed to set up a process under which complaints must be reviewed by the charter school board. You have the right to be provided with a copy of that policy upon request.

Each charter entity also has a complaint process. For information about the complaint process for the Board of Trustees of the State University of New York contact Charter Schools Institute, Grievance Desk, 74 North Pearl Street, 4th Floor, Albany, New York 12207. For information about the complaint process for the Chancellor of the New York City Public Schools contact the New York City Department of Education, Office of Charter Schools, 52 Chambers Street – Suite 413, New York, New York 10007, 212.374.5419.

There is no fee for presenting a complaint to a charter school board, a charter entity, or the Commissioner.

2. What if I file a complaint and the charter school board or the charter entity fails to act on my complaint?

If a charter school board or charter entity fails to take any action on your complaint in a reasonable time, then you may present your complaint to the Commissioner. What constitutes a reasonable period of time will depend on the circumstances. You should normally wait at least 30 days and until after the next regularly scheduled charter school board meeting. However, there may be extenuating circumstances when time is of the essence and it is reasonable for you to determine that a shorter response time is necessary. Such circumstances may include, but are not limited to, situations in which your child’s safety is at risk, your child is not receiving instruction, or other situations in which timeliness may be a crucial factor. There may also be instances in which a longer response time is necessary. Such circumstances may include, but are not limited to, situations where the complaint requires an investigation that cannot be completed within 30 days.

3. What does my complaint need to contain?

For the Commissioner to ensure that your complaint is thoroughly and quickly reviewed, you must provide the following:

  • a detailed written statement of the nature of the complaint, including the names of the individuals involved and the time, date, and place the incidents and/or actions at issue occurred;
  • what response, if any, you have received from the charter school board (a copy of any written response should be attached);
  • if the Board of Regents is not the charter entity, what response, if any, you have received from the charter entity (a copy of any written response should be attached), and, if you are proceeding before a response has been received, a detailed explanation of why you feel you must proceed in the absence of such a response;
  • what relief you are seeking; and
  • your name, address, and telephone number.

Please note that while the law does not require you to submit your complaint in any particular format, it must include at least one allegation that the charter school or charter school board has violated a term of its charter or provision of applicable law or regulation. Where there is no such allegation (and a fair reading of the complaint does not involve any violation) the Commissioner will not investigate the complaint under Education Law § 2855(4).

4. Where and to whom do I submit my complaint?

Education Law § 2855(4) complaints that an individual or group wishes to present to the Commissioner (where the requirements in question 1 above have been satisfied) should be sent to:

New York State Education Department

Office of Innovative School Model

Charter School Office
Room 465 EBA
89 Washington Avenue
Albany, New York 12234

A copy of the complaint should be sent to the charter school board and, if applicable, the charter entity. Any complaint should be clearly marked as such.

5. Is there a time period after the making of the decision or the performance of the act complained of in which my complaint must be filed with the charter school board, or a time period after the charter school board or charter entity responds to my complaint in which I must present my complaint to the Commissioner?

The Charter Schools Act does not set forth a time limit in which you are required to present your complaint to the charter school board, the charter entity, or the Commissioner acting on behalf of the Board of Regents. However, you should be aware that the Commissioner may take into account any unusually long delays in filing your complaint under the legal principle of "laches." Such delays, in appropriate cases, may affect the Commissioner’s decision, including any decision concerning remedial action. For example, lengthy delays in reporting a complaint could potentially hamper an investigation as a result of the availability of witnesses and documents. Moreover, delays could result in issues becoming moot, when the circumstances underlying the complaint change so that a decision would no longer have any practical effect.

If the Board of Regents is not the charter entity for the charter school in question, the Commissioner would generally not consider the complaint delayed if it is presented to a charter school board within 30 days of the making of the decision or the performance of the act complained of, presented to the charter entity within 30 days of receiving a response from the charter school board, and presented to the Commissioner within 30 days of receiving a response from the charter entity.

If the Board of Regents is the charter entity for the charter school in question, the Commissioner would not generally consider the complaint delayed if it is presented to a charter school board within 30 days of the making of the decision or the performance of the act complained of, and presented to the Commissioner within 30 days of receiving a response from the charter school board.

These timeframes are only guidelines. Again, the Charter Schools Act does not set forth a time limit in which you are required to present your complaint.

6. May I be represented by an attorney in the complaint process?

Yes. If you choose to have an attorney represent you, your complaint should include the name, address, and telephone number of your attorney. All Board of Regents, Commissioner, and New York State Education Department ("SED") communications and correspondence concerning the complaint will then be directed to your attorney.

Complaint Investigation and Response

7. How does the Commissioner investigate and respond to complaints?

Upon receipt of a complaint, SED staff will review the complaint and all supporting materials. SED staff will then contact you in writing to confirm receipt of the complaint and, if necessary, request that additional information be supplied. SED staff will then contact the charter school board in writing and, in most cases, give the charter school board at least 30 days to respond.

SED staff will conduct whatever investigation SED deems appropriate. The scope of the investigation and methods used may vary depending on the circumstances presented. Such investigation may include, but is not limited to, visiting the charter school, conducting interviews, reviewing documentation, and requesting additional information from the complainant, the charter school board, or other persons. In determining how to investigate, SED staff may take into account the investigation performed by the charter entity.

SED staff may take the initiative to facilitate a mutually acceptable resolution of the issue prior to a formal decision by the Commissioner. If such a resolution of the complaint is reached, the complaint may be voluntarily withdrawn without action by the Commissioner.

If a mutual resolution of the complaint is not reached, upon completion of SED staff investigation, the Commissioner will determine the appropriate response and remedial orders, if any. Written notification of the Commissioner’s determination will be provided to the complainant, the charter school board, and, if applicable, the charter entity. The Commissioner’s decision will be final.

8. What kinds of remedial orders can the Commissioner issue?

The law leaves to the discretion of the Commissioner (acting on behalf of the Board of Regents) what is appropriate in each situation.

9. May a parent or guardian of a student with a disability or suspected of having a disability file a complaint under Education Law § 2855(4) alleging that a charter school has violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act?

Yes. However, parents and guardians also have the right to file a complaint alleging a violation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act by a charter school directly with the New York State Education Department’s Office of Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities ("VESID"). For more information concerning this complaint process, contact VESID.

Back to top

Last Updated: January 28, 2011