Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Who should call the Office of the Education Ombuds (OEO)?
  2. What if English is not my first language? 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 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, family members, legal guardians, or 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 with questions about the school system or in need of coaching to resolve a disagreement informally that affects a student or school practice.

  • Community professionals who are advocating for a student or supporting a family with issues related to school.

  • Anyone who has questions about the K-12 public education system, education policies and procedures, family and community engagement, or cultural competence in schools.

OEO does 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 English is not my first language? Can I request an interpreter to speak with an Ombuds?

Yes.  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 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?

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 determine 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?

Ombuds are good at helping untangle a complicated situation and identifying potential options.  They are also good at helping people work together to resolve problems.  Our focus is on making sure that everyone can make informed decisions and collaborate to support student success.  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. Ombuds do not provide legal representation or legal advice.  We do not formally advocate for any particular student or family but we do advocate in our work for a fair and equitable public school system.   

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

Any kind of problem or question about Washington's public K-12 schools is ok to bring to us.

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. 

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.  

Is the OEO my only recourse?

No.  An Ombuds is just one tool that you might try.  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?

We have significant resource limitations and are generally not able 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.

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 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.