The Truth About Grievances

by Rhonda Crass

Texas law prohibits collective bargaining and strikes by public employees, but it preserves the right to redress of grievances. Tex. Gov’t Code Ann. §617.005 provides: “This chapter does not impair the right of public employees to present grievances concerning their wages, hours of employment, or conditions of work either individually or through a representative that does not claim the right to strike.”  Further, Tex. Gov’t Code § 617.005 has been construed broadly to include evaluations, salary disputes, grading policies, sick leave, and “any other matter which is appropriate for communications from employees to employer concerning an aspect of their relationship.”  A school district must provide parents, students, employees, and the general community the opportunity to have their complaints and concerns heard by those in positions of authority.  Administrators and school boards are those “invested with the powers of government” in a school district, and they are the persons to whom citizens must present grievances.

School districts in Texas that use the TASB Policy service have grievance policies in accordance with state law under the legal policies and have adopted local guidelines for grievances in their local polices.  The three types of grievances are employee grievances, student grievances and community grievances. Policy DGBA (Legal and Local) addresses employee grievances, while Policy FNG (Legal and Local) addresses student grievances.  Community Grievances guidelines are found in Policy GF (Legal and Local).  These local policies normally provide three levels at which the complaint should be heard.  In large urban districts, some have four levels for grievances.

While the terms “complaint” and “grievance” are used interchangeably, basically, anything that has to do with the school district—from the reading materials in the library to the color of paint in the gym—may be the subject of a grievance.  Grievances tend to be an inherently adversarial action because the grievant is challenging a decision made by an administrator, supervisor or your local school board. However, the importance of a grievance is that if a decision has been made that highlights an ineffective policy, bad local practice, or poor decision from a supervisor, the best practice is to revise the policy and not carve out exceptions to the rule.

Districts also hold a public forum at the beginning of each board meeting.  Public forum is not the place for individuals to air grievances.  Board policy states that the presiding officer or designee shall determine whether a person addressing the Board has attempted to solve a matter administratively through resolution channels established by policy. If not, the person shall be referred to the appropriate individual to seek resolution.  Individuals should not be allowed to seek an audience with the Board in closed session unless the grievance policy is followed.  Furthermore, levels I or II should not be waived to expedite a hearing before the board unless the board is the lowest level at which the requested relief may be granted.  Because there are strict guidelines regarding the time frame for bringing grievances, individuals will often attempt to use the public forum avenue to bring their concerns to the board when the grievant has failed to meet the deadlines for bringing a grievance.

As a rule, board members do not necessarily enjoy hearing level III grievances as they are elected officials and generally do not like having to say no to constituents.  Also, grievants are often their friends or neighbors which makes these decisions especially difficult. For that reason, the Board encourages students and parents to discuss their concerns and complaints through informal conferences with the appropriate teacher, principal, or other campus administrator.  Even after initiating the formal complaint process, students and parents are encouraged to seek informal resolution of their concerns.

As a final reminder, it is important to check your local policy to ensure that the level I, II and III grievance forms are in your board policies DGBA, FNG and GF as an exhibit to the local policies.  Many school district administrators have access to them, but it is important that the employees, students, parents, community members and key stakeholders have access as well.  In reviewing your level I, II and III grievance policies, it is important to include a place on the form for not only the grievant’s physical address, but email and phone contact information as well.

For more information regarding grievances, please contact Leasor Crass.  We also provide a training for administrators, supervisors and central office personnel on best practices for conducting grievance hearings.