Communicating with School / Ages 2-18

What Parents Need to Know When School Isn’t Being Responsive

We know how frustrating it is to raise concerns with your child’s school and not receive a helpful response. Here’s what to do.

If your child is struggling in school, chances are the first thing you’re going to do is reach out to their teacher. But what happens—and what can you do next—if you’re not getting a helpful response?

Here’s a pretty common situation: A parent has concerns about their kid in school. Maybe they’ve seen low grades on a report card or standardized tests. Maybe their assignments seem much too simple for their grade. Or maybe they’re worried for another reason, like their child seems anxious or depressed, or is having a hard time socially. The parent reaches out to a teacher or another adult at school for help. They send a polite email and wait for a response. Then they bring the concern up at a parent-teacher conference. They try raising their concerns in separate conversations, too. But they still feel frustrated by the response (or lack of response). 

Now what?

There are lots of reasons schools might not provide a helpful or supportive response. Teachers might be overwhelmed or stretched too thin, or there might be turnover among school staff and leadership. Whatever the reason, if you’ve experienced this, you know how stressful and frustrating it can be. You want to help your child thrive in school, but you’re not sure what to do if you aren’t getting guidance or support

Here are our best suggestions for how to get your child’s needs met when their school isn’t being a helpful ally:

  • Understand your school’s expectations for school-family communication. Your child’s school handbook should outline what to do if you have a concern or complaint about what’s happening in school. (This might be called the “grievance policy” in the handbook, which you should be able to access online if you don’t have it at home. You can also request a copy from the front office.) Start by following the process outlined in the handbook.
  • Know your rights. If your child is really struggling in school, they should be receiving high-quality targeted support through your school’s “multi-tiered support system” or “response to intervention.” (These are two approaches many school systems use to support students who are struggling.) If they aren’t getting the support they need, or if you feel that the existing interventions aren’t working, you can request a free evaluation to help figure out what might be going on. If your child is diagnosed with a disability that interferes with their learning, they have the right to appropriate support in school. Learn more about the evaluation process here.
“It can be intimidating to be the “squeaky wheel,” but know that it’s the school’s job to support your child—and you are your kid’s best advocate.”
  • Go further up the school ladder. If your child’s teacher or guidance counselor isn’t giving you the response you need, don’t be afraid to call someone higher up the school ladder. Reach out to the Assistant Principal or the Principal themselves and let them know you’re looking for support for your child. (Their office phone numbers should be available on the school website, or you can call the front desk and ask to be connected.) If you don’t reach someone over the phone, try to connect over email so you have a written record of your outreach, in case you need it later. It can be intimidating to be the “squeaky wheel,” but know that it’s the school’s job to support your child—and you are your kid’s best advocate.
  • Connect with other parents. There can be strength in numbers. Consider reaching out to your PTA or another parent group at your school, or just connecting informally with other families. Chances are, if you aren’t getting the response you want from school, others are in the same boat. A group of parents working together might be more influential than an individual.
  • Escalate to the district office. If you’ve tried to connect with teachers or school leaders on multiple occasions and you haven’t made headway, it might be time to reach out to someone outside the school. If your child attends a district public school, that might mean going to your school district’s central office. In a private or charter school, there may be another ring of leadership, like an executive director or CEO. Who you’ll reach out to depends on your particular concerns: For example, if you believe your child’s IEP is not being met, you’ll want to connect with your district’s special education director. If you have a group of parents together who wish to share broader concerns, it may be worth reaching out in writing to your superintendent and asking for a meeting. When you reach out, lay out your concerns and explain the ways you’ve tried to connect with your school so far. (This is why it’s helpful to keep a record of your outreach attempts.)

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