October 22, 2010

Education Law Expert Explains Why Schools Should Have Ombuds

In an article for the American School Board Journal, Edwin C. Darden says that, "one important way school districts can help residents feel heard is to appoint an official ombudsman." He notes that most school Ombuds work in large, urban school districts, but argues that the benefits are of equal value to a suburban or rural school district.

Darden offers some critical advice for school districts considering an Ombuds program:
There are two decision points for school board members and superintendents when considering this subject: Whether to hire an ombudsman at all and to whom will the person report on the organizational chart. Neither question is trivial. This is one of those rare cases where structure is as crucial as actual operation, and perception is reality.
Darden distinguishes between Organizational Ombuds, who handle internal complaints from employees and address operational matters, and "Public Service" Ombuds and his article focuses on the latter. This may be a semantic distinction: University Ombuds, for example, handle more than just employee issues and yet consider themselves to be Organizational Ombuds. Moreover, the ethical tenets of schools Ombuds are other Organizational Ombuds are essentially the same.

He concludes that if done correctly, an Ombuds, "is worth considering and could be money well spent." Darden is President-Elect of the Education Law Association and Director of Education Law and Policy for the Appleseed Network. (American School Board Journal.)

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