Frequently Asked Questions

Yes, it is.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Who should call the Office of the Education Ombuds (OEO)?
  2. What if I need an interpreter to speak with your office?
  3. When should I contact OEO?
  4. What will your office do?
  5. What will I gain from contacting OEO?
  6. Is there a cost for this service?
  7. Are my conversations with OEO confidential?
  8. Is the Office of the Education Ombuds my advocate or legal representative?
  9. Does the Office of the Education Ombuds work for OSPI or my school district?
  10. Is OEO my only option if I have a question or concern?
  11. Do I have to follow the Ombuds’ advice?
  12. Will the Ombuds attend meetings with me?
  13. What authority do Ombuds have?
  14. What information does the Office of the Education Ombuds make public? What do you do with the records and information you collect?
  15. As a teacher or district employee, am I protected under any whistleblower statute or provisions if I call OEO to report a concern?
  16. What other services does OEO provide?
  17. What does the word “Ombuds” mean?

Who should call the Office of the Education Ombuds (OEO)?

Anyone with a concern or question related to a student enrolled in or eligible to be enrolled in Washington’s K-12 public schools.  We are happy to assist students, families, educators, community professionals, and others.  We do not address concerns involving: elected officials (such as School Board members), allegations of educator professional misconduct, or problems with private schools, preschools, childcare centers, private organizations, businesses, public or private colleges and universities.

 

What if I need an interpreter to speak with your office?

We can help.  We use a language line to speak with callers in their native languages.  If you need an interpreter, please tell us the language that you need when you contact our office and we will arrange to have a telephone interpreter connect to the call. Interpretation services are free.

 

When should I contact OEO?

You should contact OEO when you have a question or an unresolved problem with a public school that is affecting a student’s education and you are not sure what to do next. If you want more information about your options, and an opportunity to talk through your concerns, an Ombuds can help you understand or identify your issues and possible solutions.

 

What will your office do?

We will start by seeing if we can provide quick information and helpful resources. For issues within our strategic plan, we can offer direct support from an Ombuds.

Ombuds listen, help to identify and reframe issues, talk about potential options for moving forward, and provide information about how schools work. Ombuds will talk with you directly, one or more times, to understand your questions or concerns, share information and follow up as you take steps to try to resolve your concerns. If you and the Ombuds agree it is appropriate, and if we receive written permission, the Ombuds can contact the school or district directly to help facilitate communication and problem solving.    We do not act as lawyers or students advocates but we can help research education laws, policies, and procedures.

Ombuds do not conduct formal investigations but do gather available information in order to assess the situation to provide relevant information.

If you are a community professional, an educator or a student advocate, we can provide you with information and work with you to identify options to resolve problems and support students and their families.

 

What will I gain from contacting OEO?

We hope you will gain information and confidence in communicating, collaborating and resolving problems that might come up in schools.  In addition to trying to answer your immediate questions, we often spend time reviewing how public school systems should work more generally, and talking through strategies for communicating effectively even when conflict occurs.

 

Is there a cost for this service?

No.  Everything we do is free.

 

Are my conversations with OEO confidential?

Yes. OEO respects your privacy and the privacy of your student. Our conversations with you are completely confidential and, unless required to do so by law, we do not share your information or your student’s information without your written permission. The only exception is when an Ombuds determines that there appears to be imminent risk of serious harm to an individual.

 

Is the Office of the Education Ombuds my advocate or legal representative?

No. Ombuds are impartial and work in the role of an independent third party to help solve problems. We do not provide legal representation or legal advice.  We do not formally advocate for any particular student or family but we are champions for a fair and equitable public school system.   If you are looking for a different resource than us, please check out our list of other organizations and agencies that might fit your needs.

 

Does the Office of the Education Ombuds work for OSPI or my school district?

No. OEO is independent from the public school system. We are not part of the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), or any school district or other education agency.  We are an agency under the Governor’s Office to maintain our impartiality and independence.

 

Is OEO my only option if I have a question or concern?

No.  We encourage you to learn about all of your options and how they are different.  If you call or email us, we can give you information about other resources, as well as how to access formal and informal complaint processes within schools, school districts, OSPI and other agencies.

 

Do I have to follow the Ombuds’ advice?

No. Education Ombuds will work with you to identify options and might propose some potential solutions but you decide what steps to take. If you and the Ombuds agree that it would be helpful to have the Ombuds contact the school or district directly, you decide whether you want to give us permission to do that.

 

Will the Ombuds attend meetings with me?

Not usually.  We have very limited resources and are usually not able to attend meetings in person.  We usually work by phone so that we can reach people all across the state of Washington. On limited occasions, an Ombuds may be able to participate in a meeting by phone or other means, but not on an ongoing basis. An Ombuds may be able to help you identify someone in your community who could attend meetings with you. You can also check out our resources page for community organizations that may offer free education advocates for particular issues, such as special education or students in foster care, or talk with other parents for referrals for paid education advocates. Ombuds do not participate in any formal grievance processes or serve as witnesses.

 

What authority do Education Ombuds have?

Ombuds can make recommendations and offer their perspectives, but we do not have authority to force schools or school districts to take a specific action, terminate school personnel, or remove elected officials from public office. We do not conduct formal investigations, make binding decisions, mandate policies, or formally adjudicate any issues.

 

What information does the Office of the Education Ombuds make public? What do you do with the records and information you collect?

Every year, we publish data and summaries of our work, including the numbers and types of calls we receive. We publicly share only data that is separate from any personally identifying information. OEO also shares general data with school districts showing the numbers and types of complaints received in each district, but does not provide any information that personally identifies any student or parent in any report to a district or to the public. As a state agency, OEO is subject to state records retention laws. Consistent with records retention and public records laws, OEO maintains the confidentiality of information made confidential by OEO’s statute and that is exempt from public disclosure. For more information, see OEO’s Policy on Access to Public Records.

 

As a teacher or district employee, am I protected under any whistleblower statute or provisions if I call OEO to report a concern?

OEO’s statute specifically states that no discriminatory, disciplinary or retaliatory action may be taken against any student or employee of any school district, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, or the State Board of Education for any communication made or information given or disclosed to aid the Education Ombuds in carrying out his or her duties and responsibilities. All communications with the Education Ombuds provided in good faith in the performance of the Ombuds’ duties are privileged and protected.

 

What other services does OEO provide?

OEO also offers trainings, workshops, webinars, and publications to help families and schools support student success.

 

What does the word “Ombuds” mean?

“Ombuds” is a Swedish word meaning, “a public official appointed to receive complaints against government.” The title “Ombuds” is gender-neutral, used by both men and women. The first public sector Ombuds was appointed by the Swedish parliament in 1809. The concept came to the United States in the 1960s. There are hundreds of Ombuds Offices across the nation in education, colleges, universities, government, and corporations. The Washington State Governor’s Office of Education Ombuds is the first of its kind to provide Ombuds services statewide for families and students in a state’s public education system.