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. How is confidentiality assured?
  16. As a teacher or district employee, am I protected under any whistleblower statute or provisions if I call OEO to report a concern?
  17. What other services does OEO provide?
  18. 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 to 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 negatively affecting a student’s education and you are not sure what to do next. If you want an independent assessment of the situation or a better sense of your options, an Ombuds can help you understand or identify your issues and a solution.

 

What will your office do?

We can often be helpful by sharing information and other resources with you.  For issues within our strategic plan, we can often offer direct support from an Ombuds.

Ombuds listen, help to identify and reframe issues, talk about potential options for moving forward, and provide information to fill in gaps about how schools work.  We only discuss the situation with school officials if we decide with you that it is necessary and we have signed permission from the parent/legal guardian.  We practice “shuttle diplomacy”, which means that we work informally to faciliate better communication and problem-solving among families and schools.  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 coaching to help you better support the family and student.

 

What will I gain from contacting OEO?

We love to share information.  When we think an Ombuds can help a student have more positive outcomes, we can be helpful in untangling a complicated situation, improving communication, and identifying options.  We enjoy bringing people together to resolve problems.  Our work is independent, impartial, confidential, and informal.

 

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.

 

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, including state and local education agencies.  We are an agency under the Governor’s Office to maintain our impartiality and independence.  OEO alone decides whether or how to respond to a concern brought to us.

 

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

No.  We encourage you to know 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 and districts and other agencies.

 

Do I have to follow the Ombuds’ advice?

No. Education Ombuds will listen to your concerns and share an independent perspective on the situation, but they do not provide legal advice or make any formal or binding decisions. Ombuds outline options and might propose some potential solutions but we have no enforcement power.

 

Will the Ombuds attend meetings with me?

Not usually.  We have very limited resources and are usually unable to attend meetings in person.  We usually work by phone to provide information and ideas for problem-solving.  Ombuds do not serve as witnesses and do not participate in any formal grievance processes. Ombuds do not conduct formal investigations or represent parents in proceedings.  If you would like an advocate, you can ask other parrents about their experiences with paid advocates or contact a community organization that offers free education advocates for particular issues, such as special education or students in foster care.

 

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 investigate, make any 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?

We keep general statistics on the types of concerns that are reported in our work, including demographic data.  Our primary duty in collecting data is to safeguard the identity of anyone calling our office.  Each year, we publish an annual report with policy recommendations based on our data trends and best practices from our work. 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.

 

How is confidentiality assured?

OEO holds all communications with those seeking assistance in strict confidence and does not disclose confidential information unless given permission to do so. The only exception is when an Ombuds determines that there appears to be imminent risk of serious harm to an individual.

 

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.