Legal Support

The legal office at RIDE offers guidance in a variety of areas relating to education law.  We are available to the education community, families, and lawmakers for support in understanding and applying the regulations and statutes relating to education.  In addition, we assist families and school districts that may be involved in disagreements or disputes over any matter relating to education by providing a hearing process for achieving resolution.

What do I do if I’m having a problem at my child’s school?

What happens when schools and families don’t agree?

The Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) recognizes that shared decision-making can be challenging. There are times when family and school team members do not reach agreement or when a student’s entitlements may come under question. RIDE offers several state level options to assist families and schools in resolving issues that remain after attempts for resolution at the local school level have been exhausted.

Before seeking help from RIDE at the state level, consider the following questions:

Where am I in this dispute resolution process?

There is a certain process that must be adhered to before RIDE can assist a party with dispute resolution.  Prior to contacting RIDE it is important that all attempts to resolve your issue be handled at the local level.

It is only when all of these attempts to resolve the dispute have been exhausted and you still are seeking remedy can RIDE be in a position to assist.

Classroom Teacher First discuss the issue with classroom teacher, if applicable, and try to work it out.
School Principal Then, if you are unable to work it out with the teacher Ð or if the issue is not specific to a certain class Ð then bring the issue to the school principal.
Superintendent If you cannot resolve the issue with the school principal, then go to the district superintendent.
School Committee If you cannot come to resolution with the superintendent, then go before the School Committee.
RIDE Legal Office / RIDE Special Education Call Center
If, after going through all of the channels at the local level, the issue is not resolved to your satisfaction, then you may contact the RIDE and ask for a hearing.

If the issue is about general education issues, contact the RIDE Legal Office. If the issue is related to special education, contact the RIDE Special Education Call Center.

Commissioner of Education If you disagree with the hearing decision, you may appeal to the Commissioner of Education.
Board of Education If you disagree with the Commissioner's decision, you may appeal to the Board of Education.

Whom should I contact at RIDE when I have exhausted all efforts for resolution at the local level?

You have made all efforts at the local level to resolve your concern, but have been unsuccessful. So who in RIDE can help you? 

It depends on whether your issue pertains to general education or special education.  

If your concern is about General Education issues, such as:

  • Graduation requirements
  • School discipline or suspension
  • Bullying
  • Residency
  • Problems with teachers or other school staff
  • Transportation
  • Home Schooling
  • Your child’s accommodation under Section 504
  • Student promotion
  • Health and safety
  • Civil Rights
  • Student enrollment
  • Student grades
  • Tuition reimbursement

Please contact:

RIDE Legal Office

Vilma DiOrio, Legal Staff Assistant

If your concern is about Special Education issues, such as:

  • Your rights as a parent of a child with a disability
  • Rights of your child with a disability
  • Your child’s special education and/or related services
  • Disagreement with a school team decision about:
    • Whether your child needs a special education evaluation
    • The types of timeline regarding special education evaluations your child will receive
    • Whether your child has a disability and is in need of special education 
    • The Individualized Education Program (IEP) for your child with a disability

Please contact:

Special Education Call Center

Office of Student, Community and Academic Supports (OSCAS)

What are the next steps I need to take to get RIDE’s help with my concerns?

Since you have been unsuccessful in receiving relief at the local level, you have decided to start the hearings process at the state level here at RIDE. To do so there are a series of steps you need to take to assure you are following all proper formalities for RIDE to review your concerns by providing you with a hearing.

The information provided below is intended for the guidance of anyone having an unresolved dispute with a local school district. This information is not complete but simply gives a brief, very general summary of the hearing process.

If you have specific questions or need more information please contact the Legal Office at 401-222-8979.

What is a hearing?
An administrative hearing is one step in the process of solving a conflict with a local school department. At the state level these matters are heard by a hearing officer designated by the state Commissioner of Education.

Can anyone ask for a hearing?
Any parent, student, teacher, superintendent, or member of a school committee, if aggrieved and if the dispute arises under a law relating to schools or education, may ask to have a hearing if they still have a conflict with a school committee after trying to solve the problem at the local level. There are some issues that can come directly to the state commissioner of education, and there are limits on our jurisdiction.

What steps do I need to go through first?
If you have a dispute over a matter with your local school district, in most cases it is best to try to solve the problem at the local school district first. Discuss the problem first with the school principal. If the matter still is not settled, then make an appointment to talk with your school district superintendent. The next step is to be heard at the next meeting of your local school committee. If you are not satisfied with the school committee’s decision, you may then appeal that decision to the State Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education. Some matters such as residency go directly to the Commissioner.

How do I ask for a hearing?
Mail or fax a signed letter to the Commissioner of Education. In your letter, you will need to explain why you are asking for a hearing. You must also give your name and address, along with a phone number for us to call you. Please address your letter to: 

Ms. Deborah A. Gist
Commissioner of Education
Rhode Island Department of Education
255 Westminster Street
Providence, Rhode Island 02903
Fax 401-222-6178

What happens after I send in my letter asking for a hearing?
Your letter will be given to a hearing officer in the Legal Counsel Office. You will be contacted for the purpose of scheduling a hearing. You may also have the option of scheduling a pre-hearing conference for the purpose of sorting out the issues involved.

Do I need to have an attorney with me at the hearing?
While many people do hire a lawyer to represent them at a hearing, it is not required that you do so.

Who will be at the hearing?
The hearing is conducted by a Hearing Officer, who is designated by the Commissioner of Education. You and representatives of the school district will be there, along with any witnesses you or they may bring to testify at the hearing. A court stenographer will be there to take down what is said at the hearing.

What happens at the hearing?
The Hearing Officer will allow you to tell your side of the case. The school district will present their side of the issue. Each side will have an opportunity to ask questions of the other side. A court stenographer will record the proceedings.

What should I bring to the hearing?
You should bring with you anything that will support your position. Either party may submit relevant documents as exhibits. Either party may request a subpoena for either documents or witnesses to be present at the hearing. If you request a subpoena, you will be responsible for having it served and paying any expenses involved.

How long does a hearing take?
A hearing can take anywhere from 20 minutes to several hours, depending on the circumstances to be discussed and the number of witnesses testifying. Most of the time a hearing will last between one and two hours.

What happens after the hearing is over?
Sometimes you and the school district will be asked to write a document to submit to the hearing officer after the hearing. This may be done to clarify issues discussed at the hearing. A transcript is prepared by the court stenographer. Once the transcript and all exhibits and documents are received, the hearing officer will declare the record closed, and no more exhibits will be accepted. The hearing officer will then write a decision.

How long does it take to get a decision?
Depending on the circumstances, it may take anywhere from five days to 45 days after the close of the record to receive a decision. Generally, it takes 45 working days on most decisions. For Interim Orders, in which the issue is whether education is being provided to children as required by federal and/or state law, the hearing officer has 5 working days to issue a decision.

What is a Due Process Hearing?
This is a special type of administrative hearing required under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) when issues arise regarding the education of students with disabilities. Due Process Hearings are handled by a different office. For information on Due Process Hearings, go to the Special Education dispute resolution page or call the Office of Student, Community and Academic Supports (OSCAS) at 401-222-8999. 

Can a hearing officer’s decision be appealed?
Yes. You may appeal the hearing officer’s decision, generally, to the Board of Education. A copy of the “Procedural Rules for Appeals from Decisions of the Commissioner” is provided with the Commissioner’s decision. For information on Board of Education appeals, you may call the Board of Education Liaison, Angela M. Teixeira, at 401-222-8435.

Where can I find source law and legal interpretations? 

There is an extensive body of educational law and regulations that guides RIDE in its mission to lead and support public education.  The legal office at RIDE relies on its knowledge and understanding of such laws and regulations to support RIDE in ensuring all students achieve without the least limitation placed on their opportunity to succeed academically as meaningful contributors to society.