Filing a Complaint with the Colorado Department of Education: A step-by-step guide for parents

Hi, this is Emily Harvey, I’m a staff attorney
at Disability Law Colorado and today I am going to walk you through the process of filing
a state complaint with the Colorado Department of Education. My goal today is to help you
understand the process so that it’s less intimidating as the parent of a child with
a disability to take action to enforce your child’s legal rights at school.
I first want to talk about why you might file a complaint with the Colorado Department of
Education. Generally, this is when you believe that your child’s rights under the IDEA
or ECEA have been violated. IDEA stands for Individuals with Disabilities Education Act,
and ECEA stands for Exceptional Children’s Educational Act. If you believe your child’s
rights under these laws have been violated, then it may be appropriate for you to file
a complaint with the Colorado Department of Education.
For example , it might be appropriate to file a complaint with the Colorado Department of
Education if your child’s IEP or Individualized Education Program states specific services
that the child must receive in order to receive a Free Appropriate Public Education, yet the
school does not provide those services for your child. One of the benefits of filing
a state complaint is that there are no filing fees; however, if you choose to hire an attorney
to assist you in filing, you could incur attorney’s fees. That said, a complaint can be filed
by a parent or guardian, so you don’t necessarily need an attorney to file a state complaint.
Another benefit of the state complaint process is that you receive a resolution fairly quickly.
There’s a requirement that the decision is issued within 60 days of the complaint
being properly filed, so this is much faster than a traditional lawsuit or a due process
complaint. Now that you know why you might file a complaint,
let’s talk about how to do it. You can go to the Colorado Department of Education’s
website at and download their state complaint form. I’ll show you
this on the next screen. You’re going to complete this form and submit it to the State
Complaint’s Officer within the Exceptional Student Services Unit of the Colorado Department
of Education, located at 1560 Broadway, Suite 1175, Denver, Colorado 80202. Please note
that they do not accept faxed or emailed complaints, so you will need to mail it or hand deliver
it. Let’s take a look at Colorado Department
of Education’s website. Go to or you can google Colorado Department of Education
and this should be the first page that you see on your list. We’re going to hover over
programs and supports, then go over to the right and click Special Education Programs.
Next, we’re going to go over to the left on the blue tabs and click Dispute Resolution.
Then, come over to the right and you can find the state complaint forms, which are available
in both English and Spanish. If you click on pdf, it will bring up the state complaint
form, which you can print and fill out to mail in to the State Complaints Officer.
Now let’s take a look at what information needs to be included in the complaint. Keep
in mind that this is a model form, so use of this form is not required. However, you
do need to make sure you include all of the information listed on this form.
First is the easy stuff, like the date. Then, you’ll need to check one of these boxes
to indicate if you’re the parent of the child or someone else, such as an attorney.
Then we move on to more easy stuff, like name, address, and phone number. Below this, you’ll
see that the form asks you to indicate if this complaint is filed on behalf of a specific
child. Generally, this will be the case, so you’ll need to include the child’s name,
address, and the name of the school the student attends.
The filing instructions are next and these are really important. Once you finish writing
your complaint and you gather all supporting documentation, you need to mail this as a
packet to the State Complaints Officer, whose address we have already reviewed. Note again
that they do not accept complaints by email or fax.
Also important to note is that you must also file a copy of your complaint and all supporting
documentation to the Special Education Director in your District or Board of Cooperative Educational
Services, also called a BOCES. If you do not know who the Special Education Director is,
you can call CDE at (303) 866-6694, or you can go to CDE’s website,
go to the blue tabs on the left of the screen and click on “Special Education Directors
in Colorado.” This will bring up a list of all the Districts in Colorado, as well
as the Special Education Director for each with their contact information. You’ll need
to take this information and fill it in under the “Director of Special Education” heading,
as well as the address of the District or BOCES.
Alright, now that the easy stuff is done, let’s move on to the part of the form that’s
more substantive. This is the meat of your complaint and where you will be describing
what happened to make you feel like you needed to file a complaint.
The first section is where you will describe the violation and the date the violation began.
This is also where you should identify the statute, rule, or regulation you believe was
violated. If we go back to our internet browser, and type in “Individuals with Disabilities
Education Act Regulations” you can find the regulations. Be sure to click on the one
that is listed as part of the eCFR to ensure that you get the most updated version. Once
you go to the eCFR cite, you are going to look for something that describes what you
believe was violated. As an example, let’s say that I believe my child is not in the
least restrictive environment because the IEP team did not consider all of the supplemental
supports and services available when they decided her placement in a segregated classroom.
I scroll down and find the LRE, or least restrictive environment, section at Section 300.114. I click this link and it
brings up the text of the regulation. I read through the regulation and decide that I think
this is the regulation was violated, so I copy and paste the relevant text of the regulation
into my complaint. Additionally, if you believe the Education
of All Handicapped Children Act that has been violated, you can go back to CDE’s website
to find a copy of the ECEA. In general, the ECEA follows the IDEA, so I would also check
the IDEA first as it is likely to have a similar provision. Then, you can include a reference
to both provisions in your complaint. Ok, now that you have decided which law has
been violated, you move on to the next section where you describe the facts relating to the
violation. So, for my example I would write something like this: “During my child’s
IEP meeting, the team didn’t even consider that my child could be in the general education
classroom more of the day if she had a sign language interpreter. Instead, they just told
me that she would have to get pulled out of the general education class 50% of the day
because they could only provide a sign language interpreter for her outside the resource room
that amount of time.” This section could be long or short depending on how many facts
you need to include in order to show that the violation occurred. Try to remain focused
and only include the facts that are relevant to the violation. This can be very hard to
do, especially when many things have gone wrong with your child’s educational services,
but it’s important to keep in mind as you’re drafting your complaint. At this point, you
should talk about the actual IEP document that resulted from the meeting as well as
any meeting notes and correspondence with the school. All of these relevant documents
will also need to be included in the packet you submit with your complaint.
The final substantive section is a place for you to describe what the District needs to
do to resolve your complaint. One of the most common things we ask for is additional training
to help ensure that the same or a similar violation does not occur again in the future.
Another common remedy that you can ask for is compensatory services, sometimes called
“comp services.” These compensatory services are intended to make up for anything your
child lost because of the violation. So, for example, if the violation you are writing
the complaint about resulted in your child missing time in class, you might want to ask
for some additional tutoring or other forms of additional education outside what she will
already receive in order to make up for the violation. These are just some examples of
remedies, but you can ask for other things as well. I will give you a head’s up though
that asking for teachers or paraprofessionals to be punished or fired is generally not a
good idea. The State Complaints Officer cannot make a district take negative action against an
employee, so it does not do much good to ask for this.
Finally, you will need to print, sign, and date the complaint form. By doing this, you
are certifying that you mailed or hand-delivered a copy of the complaint to the Special Education
Director you listed on page 1 of the complaint on the same day you filed the complaint with
CDE. After you file the Complaint, the School District
will have an opportunity to file a Response. You should receive a copy of the Response,
and you will have an opportunity to submit a Reply in order to reply to anything in the
School District’s Response you believe you need to address. After the Complaint, Response,
and Reply have been submitted to CDE, the State Complaints Officer assigned to the case
conducts an investigation. This usually includes review of relevant documents and interviews
of involved parties. Within 60 days of the date the Complaint was
filed, the State Complaints Officer issues a decision. If the State Complaints Officer
determines that there were legal violations that require remedies, the State Complaints
Officer enters orders that must be taken by the District to correct the violations. These
remedies may include, but are not limited to, a corrective action plan, compensatory
services, or the reconvening of the IEP team. If the State Complaints Officer determines
that no violations occurred, then no remedies are ordered.
The State Complaints Officer’s decision cannot be appealed, but either party may file
a Due Process Complaint regarding the same issues that were addressed in the state complaint.
Due Process is more like a trial before an Administrative Law Judge with motions and
discovery. If you go to Due Process, you will essentially be scrapping the state complaint
and starting anew. For more information about due process, please visit
Thank you for taking the time to watch this video about filing complaints with the Colorado
Department of Education. I hope the information I provided will help you feel empowered to
advocate for your child and enforce their legal rights. If you’d like additional information
about the work we do and the rights of people with disabilities, please visit our website

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