Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Who should call the Office of the Education Ombuds (OEO)?
  2. What if English is not my first language? If I am a limited-English speaking parent or family member, can I request an interpreter to speak with an Ombuds?
  3. When should I contact OEO?
  4. What will the Ombuds 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. What kinds of problems are appropriate to bring to the OEO?
  10. Does the Office of the Education Ombuds work for OSPI or my school district?
  11. What can I expect from OEO?
  12. Is the OEO my only recourse?
  13. Do I have to follow the Ombuds' advice?
  14. Will the Ombuds attend meetings with me?
  15. What authority do Education Ombuds have?
  16. What information does the Office of the Education Ombuds make public? What do you do with the records and information you collect?
  17. How is confidentiality assured?
  18. As a teacher or district employee, am I protected under any whistleblower statute or provisions if I call OEO to report a concern?
  19. What other services does OEO provide?
  20. What does the word "Ombuds" mean?

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

  • Parents or legal guardians of students who are currently enrolled or eligible to be enrolled in elementary or secondary public schools in Washington state who are experiencing a problem or have a question about a public school.
  • Students currently enrolled or eligible to be enrolled in Washington's K-12 public schools who have questions about their rights or the school's responsibilities.
  • Educators who have questions about the public education system or who are working through a conflict or disagreement about a student or a school practice or policy.
  • Community professionals who are advocating for a student or supporting a family about issues related to school and need more information.
  • Anyone who has questions about the K-12 public education system, education policies and procedures, parent involvement, or cultural competence in schools.

OEO does not work on cases 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 English is not my first language? If I am a limited-English speaking parent or family member, can I request an interpreter to speak with an Ombuds?

Yes. OEO has access to a telephone language line that any caller may request in order to speak in their native language with an Ombuds. If you need an interpreter, please just state the language that you need when you contact our office and a telephone interpreter will be connected to the call. Interpretation services are free to any caller and easy to access.

When should I contact OEO?

You should contact OEO when you have a question or an unresolved problem with a public school that impacts 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 the Ombuds do?

The Ombuds will listen to you, help you identify and reframe issues, talk about your options and possible solutions, discuss the situation with school officials (only with signed parent's permission), facilitate and/or mediate conversations among all of the involved parties, research education laws, policies or procedures, and work with everyone to generate options that will solve the problem or improve the situation.

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 about how to assist or support the student or family you are working with.

What will I gain from contacting OEO?

Speaking with the Ombuds can help untangle a complicated situation and uncover alternatives available to help resolve a problem facing a student. In addition to resolving conflict, a goal of the Ombuds is to enhance all parties' ability to communicate and partner effectively in order to support student achievement. Education Ombuds focus on collaborative problem solving rather than win-lose approaches.

Is there a cost for this service?

No. All services provided by the Office of the Education Ombuds are free of charge.

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. Education Ombuds are impartial and work in the role of an independent third party to help solve problems. Ombuds do not provide legal representation or legal advice. While Education Ombuds do not formally advocate for any particular individual, they do advocate for fair and equitable processes that directly support a student's success.

What kinds of problems are appropriate to bring to the OEO?

Any kind of problem or conflict that impacts a student's academic progress or safe learning environment is appropriate to ask about. You might also call if you have a question or concern about a policy or procedure in your school district or in Washington state.

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 and is seated in the Governor's Office. OEO maintains sole discretion over whether or how to act regarding an individual's concern, a trend or concerns of a group of individuals.

What can I expect from OEO?

OEO's goal is to provide exceptional customer service and individualized attention to everyone involved. We will respond to you in a timely manner and treat you courteously and with respect. We will work with you to determine appropriate steps toward answering your questions and resolving problems and will keep you informed of our progress and our efforts to achieve results.

Is the OEO my only recourse?

No. It is one resource available to help you in understanding the public school system and in resolving problems collaboratively. The Office of the Education Ombuds supplements but does not replace the existing resources for grievances that may exist in public schools. Ombuds can give you information about who to contact with questions and how to access formal and informal complaint processes within schools and districts, as well as options for formal administrative complaints to state or federal educational enforcement 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 may make suggestions or propose steps for a parent, school and/or district to take based on what they see as possible options to work toward resolution of a problem impacting a student.

Will the Ombuds attend meetings with me?

It's possible, but due to resource limitations, Ombuds primarily work directly with families and schools over the phone, providing information and ideas for problem solving. Ombuds also help families and educators prepare for meetings by clarifying issues and concerns and coaching both parties on how to communicate effectively in conflict situations. In some cases, Ombuds are able to participate in a school meeting, but will do so primarily by telephone to learn more about the situation, help in making sure each person is able to understand and participate in the discussion, ask questions for clarification and share an independent perspective. 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.

What authority do Education Ombuds have?

Ombuds can make recommendations but 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. Ombuds do not 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?

The Office of the Education Ombuds keeps general statistics on the types of cases and concerns that are reported in the course of their work. This includes reporting demographic data of the students, parents and districts they work with in a manner that safeguards the identity of any caller. Each year OEO publishes an annual report with a summary of its data and recommendations that are related to trends, issues and concerns about policies, procedures or disparate educational outcomes for students. 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?

Besides conflict resolution and information about education policies, procedures, or practices, OEO also offers information on its website, free publications for families (translated in seven languages), workshops for parents, and when funds allow, professional development for educators.

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 1960's. 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.