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Retaliation

DID THE SCHOOL DISTRICT RETALIATE AGAINST THE PARENT FOR FILING A GRIEVANCE?

Case citation:  Parent v. Katy ISD, Dkt. No. 061-R10-0510 (Comm’r Educ.  August 7, 2013).

Summary:   The parent’s child attended school in the Katy Independent School District.  The parent had a contentious relationship with the school principal at the child’s first school.  That led to the child being transferred to another school.  The parent filed a grievance against the principal at the first school.  There was a string of emails between the parent and administrators at the first school which, in part, involved the accusation that the parent had been denied access to the child’s science teacher.  In the final email sent by the principal of the first school, the principal countered that allegation by stating that:  “You have not been denied access to [the student’s] original teacher, as stated in several communications by you, as you spoke with her on the phone and met with her in my office.  It is in the best interests of this teacher not to be placed in a situation she does not feel comfortable with as a result of the accusations and formal complaints that have been made by you about her.”

The parent filed a grievance, claiming that the principal’s final email was sent in retaliation for the parent’s earlier grievance.  When the district denied the grievances, the parent appealed to the Commissioner of Education.

Ruling: The Commissioner held that the evidence was insufficient to show retaliation against the parent.  The Commissioner first considered whether jurisdiction existed over the claims.  The only valid basis for jurisdiction cited by the parent involved the alleged violation of Education Code § 26.001(a), which states that parents are partners with educators, administrators, and school boards.  The Commissioner has recognized jurisdiction over violations of § 26.001(a) when the violation has been found in conjunction with another violation of Texas Education Code, Chapter 26.  In this case, the parent claimed that the district retaliated against her for filing grievances.  A parent’s right to file grievances is found in Education Code Chapter 26.  The Commissioner stated:  “If a parent cannot exercise his or her rights without retaliation, the parent is not being treated as a partner.”  Thus, the Commissioner had jurisdiction over the § 26.001(a) claim.

The Commissioner, however, denied the claim.  The parent claimed that, on the same day that she met with a school official about her grievance concerning the principal, the principal sent an email that the parent believed was designed to turn her daughter’s teacher against her and her daughter.  It was undisputed that the parent and the principal had a contentious relationship that resulted in the child being reassigned to another school.  Based on the evidence, consisting of email exchanges concerning the daughter, substantial evidence existed to support the school district’s conclusion that the principal did not retaliate against the parent.  The Commissioner also concluded that, because the girl had been assigned to another school at the time, there was no relief available to the parent.  The Commissioner upheld the district’s decision to deny the parent’s grievance.