Parents’ Guide to Handling Conflict with Schools

parent conflict with schools teachers

Nearly every parent and caregiver has experienced conflict with their children’s schools. I’ve had to advocate for my own children, and I’ve learned about many issues while administering the San Antonio Charter Moms discussion group on Facebook for over a decade. Are there better ways to resolve conflicts with schools? I’ve gathered my thoughts here in a playbook for families who are hoping to resolve problems in constructive ways, and to present strategies that they may not have considered before. 

Start Close to the Problem

The best hope for resolving conflicts quickly is to start close to the problem. Usually, your child’s classroom teacher has the most knowledge about the situation. Here are some suggestions for good communication with your child’s teacher:

  • Start the year off on the right track by going to back-to-school events like Meet the Teacher Night. If that’s not an option, then use another method to take the first step and reach out to the teacher. 
  • Learn to use the customary communication channel at your child’s school. Your child’s school may offer a communication app. There may be channels for particular classes or activities, and an option to send a direct message to a teacher. Particular teachers may have a preference for email, or they may be willing to share a cell phone number. 
  • When the topic is complex, a text or an email is not as good as a phone call or video call, and the best thing of all is an in-person meeting. Try to be humble and listen more than you speak.
  • Work hard to resolve the conflict with the classroom teacher before escalating to an Assistant Principal or Dean of Students. 

Look for Creative Solutions

Sometimes the problem and the solution are not directly related to what’s happening in the classroom. Here are some examples of problems that may have creative solutions.

  • Transportation, drop-off, and pick-up: Many families who exercise school choice find that transportation is a major source of stress, whether it’s long hours spent commuting or road rage incidents in the carline. For groups of families driving similar routes, carpooling can lighten the load. Safety issues should be brought up with school administration. It may be necessary to move to a school that offers transportation.  
  • Lack of school spirit and activities: Schools that are new or have experienced a lot of change recently may lack the sense of culture that you find in more established schools. When more parents and caregivers get involved in the parent organization, they can start new traditions like fall festivals and spring carnivals. They can also support extracurricular activities as sports boosters. They can serve as coaches for sports and mentors for after school clubs. 
  • Low teacher morale: Volunteers can organize meals, gifts, and recognitions for teachers and staff to boost morale on campus. 

Going to Top Leadership

Escalating to the campus principal, regional superintendent, or the top executive is not to be taken lightly. The conflict may heat up to the point where the family no longer feels comfortable being a part of the school community. However, there’s also the possibility that top leadership is not aware of the problems at the campus level and that speaking at a school board meeting may improve a situation. The process works a little differently depending on the school model—whether the school board is appointed or elected. 

Open Enrollment Public Charter Schools

At open enrollment public charter schools, the ultimate authority rests with an appointed board of trustees. They have the power to make important decisions such as hiring and firing the superintendent, approving budgets, and setting policies; however, they are not supposed to micromanage or undermine the superintendent. Their meetings are posted publicly on the school’s website and have a period for public comment. 

In-District Charter Schools and Magnet Schools

At in-district charter schools and magnet schools, which are part of independent school districts (ISDs), the ultimate authority rests with an elected board of trustees. Boards at ISDs hold regular meetings with the opportunity for public comment. Also, the districts hold elections periodically to re-elect board members or elect new members. To learn more about elected boards, visit our school boards guide and our  “Who represents me?” guide. 

During public comment, there will be a time limit for each speaker. A group of parents who want to draw attention to an issue can coordinate to sign up to speak at the same meeting and make sure their issue gets elevated. They can even plan ahead to assign certain facts or points to be brought up by different speakers. 

Getting Help for Your Cause

Sometimes we need to call on our village to help solve problems and be more effective parents for our children. Here are some suggestions of places to turn to for help. 

  • Vent to your friends. There are many benefits of venting to your friends rather than posting in a social media group. Your friends know you and your children, they care about you, and they share your values. There is no record of what was said, so you can blow off steam with no repercussions. Even if you do decide to post on social media later, you can write down your thoughts, save a draft, and take time to cool down. 
  • Talk to a medical provider or diagnostician. If your child is struggling in school, it’s not necessarily the fault of the teacher, the school, or the parents—it may be because there is an undiagnosed issue. There are so many possibilities. It could be a physical issue such as vision, hearing, diet, exercise, or sleep, or it could be a different issue such as autism, dyslexia, lack of fine motor skills, post-traumatic stress, anxiety, or depression. Getting expert advice is the best way to help your child.
  • Hire a special education advocate or lawyer. If you think your child may qualify for special education services, you can make a written request for a special education evaluation from your child’s school or the district where you live. If the school or district is not following the special education process, then you can use the conflict resolution suggestions at the top of this blog post to try to improve communication. If that doesn’t work, you can hire a special education advocate or an attorney to speak up for you and make sure the district or school is following the law.
  • File a complaint with the Texas Education Agency (TEA). The TEA hears complaints on serious matters such as misuse of federal or state funds, or conditions that present a danger to the health, safety, or welfare of the students. Find more information at TEA Complaints Management.
  • Create a petition. Online platforms such as have made it easier for advocates, including parents, caregivers, and students, to rally support for a cause. Thoughtfully written, a petition can communicate a problem to a wider audience and mobilize stakeholders to take action. Like going to the school board, starting a petition is a serious escalation and may cause a family to feel unwelcome in a school community. 
  • Write reviews. Many social media platforms, including some education-specific sites,  allow users to leave reviews for businesses, including schools. Writing a review, positive or negative, can influence the school choice decisions of other families. There are also sites such as Glassdoor where teachers and staff can leave reviews to influence future job seekers.
  • Go to the media. Our community has a robust group of education journalists who seek to inform the public about what’s happening in schools. Families approaching the media should be mindful that reporters (or their editors) may or may not find their problem to be newsworthy. In addition, the family is choosing to give up some of their privacy in the interest of sharing their story with a wider audience.

Seeking Freedom

The goal is to find an educational setting that’s the right fit for your children. Sometimes you can speak up and improve your current situation, but at other times it’s necessary to change schools. If it’s hard to get enough freedom at a public school, such as an open enrollment charter school or in-district charter school, then it may be worth considering a different setting, such as homeschooling. Private schools and microschools can also offer more flexibility.

I hope this helps you identify ways to resolve conflict with your children’s schools or find allies to help you champion your cause. The San Antonio Charter Moms discussion group on Facebook is meant to be a helpful source of information for parents, but when it comes to solving a problem that impacts your children, it may be useful to go outside the group to find more resources.  

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Inga Cotton

Parent activist and founder of San Antonio Charter Moms. Raising two children to be independent adults who do good in the world.