Hiring an Education Ombudsman

By Edwin C. Darden

Far too many lawsuits against school districts are born of frustration. They are conceived in an initial gripe, incubated by callous and dismissive attitudes, and then pushed into the harsh public spotlight when the person feels no other choice remains.

Yep. That is a tough judgment of you. But the reality is that, while a percentage of litigants harbors inconsolable anger, seeks revenge, or yearns to break new legal ground, that portrayal alone is deceptive. Many plaintiffs are ordinary folks who felt their problem was ignored until the legal complaint arrived at school board headquarters.

One important way districts can help residents feel heard is to appoint an official ombudsman.

An ombudsman is a person who represents the public good. Usually a school system employee, the ombudsman’s job is to field complaints and find answers. Objectivity is a must. Ideally, the ombudsman is someone known for independence and fairness, whose standing in the community is impeccable, who has a modicum of power, and whose job is not hamstrung by politics or conflicting agendas.

In other words, if a school district is wrong, the ombudsman must say so, fix the problem, and advocate for better policies or practices to improve service in the future. 

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