How to deal with vexatious parents/carers

So you thought as a school leader that your only concern would be dealing with children’s issues and staff issues? Wishful thinking. Whilst the majority of complaints or concerns from parents/carers are handled in an informal manner and resolved quickly, sensibly and without ongoing issues, that is not always the case.

School leaders are increasingly having to deal with vexatious parents/carers, either in person or in the social media world. Unfortunately these concerning occurrences don’t seem to be lessening – we have certainly seen an increased number of SASSLA members seeking advice and guidance on how to deal with these situations.

A vexatious parent/carer should never be dealt with on your own. A vexatious parent can sometimes turn quickly from simply being difficult to being threatening and intimidating and then possibly violent. From the first inkling that there is likely to be an issue with a parent/carer, you need to ensure that you do the following:

  • Always act in a respectful and courtesy manner, regardless of the type of behavior that is being reciprocated by the parent/carer.
  • Ensure that the parent/carer is aware of/remind them of the DECD Policy and Procedures for Parent Concerns and Complaints, and that it should be adhered to – provide a copy of the Policy/Procedures if necessary.
  • Notify your Education Director (ED) in writing of the issue/s, confirming details of all communication thus far.
  • Make full detailed notes of all interactions with the parent/carer.
  • Take screen shots of all comments/posts on social media and NEVER respond on social media.
  • Never meet with the parent/carer on your own – there should always be a witness who should also make full detailed notes.
  • Do not engage in verbal communication with them, insist on everything being in writing – likewise all responses from you should be in writing (depending on the nature of the communication it should be reviewed by your ED before being sent).
  • Seek advice from your ED regarding having the parent/carer excluded from the school if their behaviour is escalating, with the ED providing appropriate letters to be sent.
  • Mediation with the ED and parent/carer might be an option if the relationship hasn’t irrevocably broken down, with a possible result being that the ED becomes the parent/carers point of contact.
  • If the situation is escalating and you feel at all unsafe, seek support from DECD regarding the provision of extra security measures at the school.
  • Report the parent/carer to South Australia Police and request charges be laid if offences have occurred, or seek an Intervention Order preventing the parent/carer from coming near you, the school or your home if you are concerned for your safety and/or that of your students/staff.
  • Take time away from work if necessary, including seeking medical/psychological assistance.
  • Seek advice/assistance from SASSLA, who may refer you for legal advice in relation to a possible workers compensation claim, victims of crime claim, civil claim or defamation matter.

This is not an exhaustive list, but gives you some idea of the options available to you should you find yourself in the situation of dealing with a vexatious parent/carer. Most importantly, don’t try to handle it on your own, or suffer alone. Seek advice and assistance.

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I see my SASSLA membership as a type of insurance policy. It’s my support network to fall back on in possible times of crisis. Knowing that I have legal assistance a phone call away and financial assistance with legal costs gives me peace of mind. It’s reassuring to know that I have genuine peer support now and throughout my future career.