Federal Grant Programs

Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE): ESSA Complaint Procedures

The procedures outlined in this document will be used to resolve complaints presented by any individual or organization alleging violations of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), as reauthorized by the Every Student Succeeds Act (2015) (referred to from here as ESSA). The first policy is for general complaints and the second policy is specifically for nonpublic schools alleging violations related to provision of equitable services pursuant to ESSA.

As is stated in each of the policies below, before resorting to a formal complaint, DESE encourages good-faith communication among those involved and with DESE liaisons, to the extent practicable.

1. General Resolution Process for ESSA-Related Issues

Any person or entity wishing to lodge a complaint against a school, school district, or DESE for violation of the administration of ESSA may use this procedure. The one exception is for ESSA complaints by non-public schools, which by law have a slightly different process, which is found below.

Prior to requesting DESE's involvement, prospective complainants are encouraged to make good-faith efforts to raise and resolve problems through communication with those involved, to the extent practicable.

Stage 1: Requesting facilitation from DESE

If an individual or entity has not achieved a satisfactory result from direct communications with local entities or reasonably believes that such communications would be futile, the individual or entity may make a request for facilitation of a complaint, in writing, to the Director, Resource Allocation Strategy & Planning, Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, 75 Pleasant Street, Malden, MA 02148 by mail or by email, federalgrantprograms@mass.gov.

Each request should contain the following information:

  • The full name, address, telephone number and email address of the complaining individual or organization;
  • A description of the situation and facts supporting the complaint, including any efforts or offers made to resolve the complaint prior to filing the request;
  • The name and address (if known) of the school or district or other entity believed responsible for the violations, as well as the names of responsible individuals, if known (respondents);
  • A statement containing the federal statute or regulation and applicable ESSA program alleged to have been violated; and
  • Copies of any documents and communications supporting the complaint.

The Director of Resource Allocation Strategy & Planning (Director) or his or her designee will coordinate an initial investigation, including notifying individuals or entities appearing in the complaint and alleged to be responsible for violations of ESSA program administration within 10 days of receiving the complaint and requesting facts and documents related to the allegations of the complaint. This investigation may include on-site interviews. The Director or his or her designee, at his or her discretion, will attempt to facilitate an informal resolution between/among the parties once the investigation has concluded. If the Director has not been successful in facilitating a mutually agreeable resolution within 30 days of receipt of the complaint (or longer by agreement of the complainant), the complainant may choose to submit a formal complaint, at which time the matter will be referred to DESE's Problem Resolution System (PRS) team, along with all materials from the investigation. The complainant is free to withdraw his or her complaint at any point at either Stage 1 or 2 of the process.

Note: DESE cannot talk to a third party about any matter involving a specific student unless the student's parent has provided written permission to do so. See the PRS website for details on obtaining required parental consent (Question 2).

Stage 2: Formal complaint to DESE

The complainant will be required to complete and sign a Problem Resolution Intake Form, filling out only those portions not provided during the Stage 1 process, and send copies to respondent(s). PRS may conduct a further investigation, collect relevant documentation from the parties involved, and will issue a written finding and any necessary corrective action within 60 days of receiving the complaint (except in extraordinary circumstances) for matters within the Department's jurisdiction. The Director will provide information to PRS, including materials received from any Stage 1 process, but will not engage in fact finding or issue any findings.

Stage 3: Additional Options

While the PRS process is final and does not allow for an appeal, a complainant has the option at any time to contact the Office of the Inspector General at the United States Department of Education to report fraud, waste, abuse, misuse, or mismanagement of United States Department of Education program funds. The Inspector General's Hotline is a toll-free number, 1-800-MIS-USED or visit the OIG website to file a complaint.

2. Resolution Process for Non-Public Schools/Equitable Services

Districts and non-public schools engage in regular, ongoing consultation with one another with respect to the provision of equitable services using ESSA entitlement grant funds.1 Proactive, good faith communication among all parties is vital. We expect that the vast majority of differences can be resolved by ongoing consultation without DESE's intervention. In some cases, however, parties may not be able to come to an agreement. DESE has the following process for resolving such impasses.

Stage 1: Disagreement during Consultation

After consultation with the non-public school, a district makes its "proposal" for equitable services on any issue over which there is disagreement and shares that proposal with reasons for its position in writing with the non-public school.2

The district and private school should continue attempt to resolve differences, until either party requests facilitation from the DESE Ombudsperson. Districts should not delay providing services over which there is agreement.

Stage 2: Facilitated consultation

If the non-public school believes that consultation has not been meaningful or timely, and/or disputes anything in the district's proposed provision of services, including the process by which allocations were calculated, they must explain their reasons for disagreeing in writing along with any relevant documentation to the DESE Ombudsperson with a copy to the LEA. The LEA shall provide its reasons for disagreement along with any of its documentation regarding the issues raised by the non-public school3.

District and non-public school officials with decision-making authority shall engage in consultation with the DESE ombudsperson present as an observer/facilitator and as an expert on equitable services in general. The role of the DESE Ombudsperson is not a mediator or arbitrator at this meeting and he or she will not make any decision on the outcome. His or her role is to keep the conversation productive and participate in a neutral manner, to help the parties come to mutual agreement.

Stage 3: Formal complaint to DESE

If after a facilitated consultation, the parties still cannot agree, the non-public school may file a formal complaint with DESE's Problem Resolution System (PRS) team, with a copy to the Ombudsperson.4 PRS will conduct an investigation, collect relevant documentation from the parties involved, and issue a written finding and any necessary corrective action within 45 days of receiving the complaint.5 The DESE Ombudsperson will provide information to PRS, including materials received from any Stage 2 consultation, but will not engage in fact finding or issue any findings.

Stage 4: Appeal to USED

If any party disagrees with the PRS's finding, it may be appealed to USED not later than 30 days after DESE resolves the complaint (or fails to resolve the complaint within the 45-day time limit). Accompanying the appeal should be a copy of PRS's finding, and, if there is one, a complete statement of the reasons supporting the appeal. The US Secretary of Education shall investigate and resolve the appeal not later than 90 days after receipt of the appeal.6


1 ESEA as amended through P.L. 115-64, section 1117(b)(1)

2 ESEA as amended through P.L. 115-64, section 1117(b)(2)

3 ESEA as amended through P.L. 115-64, section 1117(b)(6)

4 Id.

5 ESEA as amended through P.L. 115-64, section 8503(a)

6 ESEA as amended through P.L. 115-64, section 8503(b)

Last Updated: September 14, 2018

 
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Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
75 Pleasant Street, Malden, MA 02148-4906

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