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pallen123's avatar

Will I get sued if I publicly complain about school experience?

Asked by pallen123 (1507 points ) September 15th, 2011

We sent our four year old son to a private Pre-K school last year and it started off fine but by the end of the year we were getting complaints from one of his teachers and an administrator about our son’s “aggressive behavior”. They said he had pushed kids on two occasions and even “bit” another kid once. Preschool behavior to us but they suggested we take him to see a psychologist because they thought there may be “something more serious” going on. They said “maybe he has sensory integration disorder or something”. We took him to a psychiatrist, a psychologist, and his pediatrician. They all said the same thing: “There’s absolutely nothing wrong with your son. He’s acting like a four year old boy. Move him to another school.” Before we made the decision to move to another school I observed my son in the classroom (from behind a one way mirror) for two hours. During that time he did not act aggressively or impulsively one single time. Further, the teacher told my wife that our son’s behavior caused the other kids in the classroom to not want to play with him. This caused us stress, but he had plenty of friends begging their parents to have playdates with him and when I observed him in the classroom, other kids were constantly trying to play with him. We became convinced the school was more committed to finding fault with our son that troubleshooting preschool behavior—so we moved him to another school. Three other parents also chose to move their children to other schools for similar reasons. The experience left us bitter and concerned for kids that would attend this school in the future.

I told the head of the school that I wanted a full refund for the school year, in part to ensure that our concerns about the schools training and approach to dealing with spirited children would be addressed. He decline to issue the refund and now I am wondering what I can do next, short of suing the school. Can I create a Facebook group for parents that had similar bad experiences? Can I complain to State Education Department authorities? Can I seek out other parents in the Pre-K program currently, as well as board members of this school, to share our treatment? Can I write as letter sharing our experience and publish it on a website/blog? Am I just exercising my rights to free speech or can it be considered harassment and extortion? Is it slander? Am I likely to be sued if I express myself? What else can I do?

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17 Answers

SpatzieLover's avatar

People sue because they get fat from eating hamburgers. Will you get sued? Possibly.

If you are seriously dissatisfied, I would begin a letter writting campaign to all of the people you can think of. Write one supberb letter and sent it to the Administrator. I’d include all facts and a timeline of when things happened and how you and your wife followed up/through with things including the visits to medical professionals.

I would make it clear that you expect a complete refund.

Is there a State agency or licensing board to contact? If so, send a copy of the letter to them with a cover letter explaining that you want the school to be investigated.

6rant6's avatar

You think that the teachers made up this stuff about your kid? Is there a reason you think they have it in for him? Just because you didn’t see it does not mean it doesn’t happen, right?

Why would you expect to get your money back? For the time he was in school, you received the services you paid for. You expect them to give you money, “to ensure that our concerns about the schools training and approach to dealing with spirited children would be addressed.” How on earth would you getting money ensure that? The fact that you threaten people with a law suit doesn’t make them think you were right.

I’m sorry you’re having difficulty finding the right school for your son. I expect the next one might be a better fit. Lessons learned; move on.

I understand the impulse to form a reprisal group. But really, won’t you be better off to let the anger go and focus on making your son’s childhood happy?

Judi's avatar

In our town someone created a facebook page to share stories about a horrific children’s dentist and facebook took it down. You could get the word out for a while though.
As long as you are speaking the truth you won’t get sued for slander. (Well, you might get sued, but they shouldn’t win.)
Are you part of a mommy meet-up group? I would get the word out.
As for getting your money back, you could try, but I doubt you would win that one either.
I am so sorry you went through this. Children really don’t need to get tagged with these kinds of labels so young.
How is he doing in his new school?

zenvelo's avatar

I endorse @6rant6‘s answer. Taking on a negative publicity campaign is not going to get you any refund; it may give you some small satisfaction in the moment but not in the long run.

Does your state accredit Pre-K programs? I don’t imagine they do, and complaining to the State Education Department seems over -the-top to me, especially since you voluntarily pulled your son.

We had a bad experience with a pre-school with my son; we moved him to a different school where he thrived. we found it better to be positive about the new school rather than negative about the old school.

You don’t mention how long this process took, but it’s a new school year. If you pre-paid for time after your son was pulled, you can ask politely for the balance, but I don’t think you have any claim for refunds prior to when he left the school.

Is he in Kindergarten now? Enjoy where he is now, and look forward to him having a great year.

marinelife's avatar

Why waste your energy? Just move on.

YARNLADY's avatar

Consult a lawyer for accurate information about the law.

Hibernate's avatar

I hope you can express your feeling publicly without getting sued. Maybe that school or the teachers don’t like your kid in particular or maybe parents complained and want the teachers to tell you it’s something wrong with him.

All the best wishes no matter which road you take here.

plethora's avatar

I would be concerned if I DID NOT see some aggressive behavior in a 4 yr old boy. Prissy school teachers and principal.

I agree with above posts. Glad you moved your son. Mostly I agree with @marinelife Move on unless you plan on starting another career….that of suing the school, not to mention dragging your son through it too. He needs your attention. The school could care less.

As for writing a letter, yes, if you are very very good at that. As for getting them to refund money, there is probably a clause in the forms you signed that precludes that.

SavoirFaire's avatar

You might get sued if you complain publicly, but the case is unlikely to get past the very early stages. It can’t be slander or libel if it is true, and the burden of proof is on the school to show that whatever you say is untrue. Most likely, however, you’ll get nothing more than a cease-and-desist letter from the school (if even that). This you can legally ignore, though it might mean further action is coming your way. If you get a cease-and-desist order signed by a judge, however, then you would be best of ceasing and desisting. But I say start your Facebook group and let people know far and wide that this is a bad school.

@marinelife How is telling people not to spend their money on a bad school wasting energy? If I was considering a private school for a child of mine, I’d certainly do research first. I would find it extremely helpful to come across a Facebook group where people could say what exactly had gone wrong in their case, and I’d be rather annoyed at parents who said “my kid’s already damaged, and I don’t care about anyone else’s kids.”

zenvelo's avatar

A facebook group seem a little too much. The friends of friends don’t need to know, and the people you are trying to “warn” aren’t going to know.

Better to post a bad review on Yelp. Yelp reviews seem to float to the top of searches for info on a location.

Pandora's avatar

I find it strange that you went to get your child checked out. I say this because, if someone had said something like that about my son, I would’ve just moved on because I know without a doubt that my son was far from violent when he was 4. He got into a fight only one time (when he was about 9)after another child picked a fight with him and he was extremely upset that he hit the child back. The kid thought he was an easy target because he would back away from fighting if he could help it but the kid landed a punch and my son lost his temper. I can’t help but wonder if you seen other behavior at home that you thought was signals of a violent behavior.
I had a child like that in daycare once who would often start fights. He had his sweet days and his horrible days. Kids can be forgiving and give each other a chance. Sometimes I think its just survival. If I become friends with the bully, than he won’t pick on me.
Mom swore he wasn’t violent either and yet every morning we had cameras filming the hallway and you could see him smacking her face and kicking her because he simply didn’t want to come into class. Personally. I didn’t think he needed therapy. I think the parents needed to learn to teach him what was or wasn’t acceptable behavior and to give him consequences. He learned with me that I meant what I said and he learned to listen to me. I think he was just insecure (he was 2) and he learned through repeated action with me that I could be trusted to care for him and reprimand him in a loving way when he wouldn’t listen.
Some kids also get their own special little hit list. There were two children in class that he would often hit or try to bite but I felt it was because he wanted to be their friends. Some he would completely ignore. One of the boys didn’t want to play with him because he was afraid of him. It wasn’t till one day another child bit him back and did it a few times that if finally stopped. Then we had to work on getting the other kid from bitting. Luckily his mom took care of that.
Its a horrible cycle that can make things a nightmare if not corrected. The daycare workers probably thought there was deeper issues if you were denying everything and saying he was a complete angel at home. This would make anyone think that he has extreme issues in social settings.
As already stated. You already got your services so I don’t see why you would expect any money back. If I ordered a steak at a resturant and thought it tasted bad and continue to finish it, I’m pretty sure the resturant will not give me a pass. I’m not doing them a favor by eating or paying. Its cash for services. If I didn’t like it and said it tasted horrible after one bite than they can either comp me the steak or try to get me another steak. Its my choice to ever return.
You decided to take him somewhere else. Great, problem solved. Move on. I doubt the center goes out of its way to lose customers. They really prefer to keep a kid than try to drum up new business. Doesn’t sound like they were being mean but they have to consider the safety of all the kids they have.
Oops, sorry. Yes. They can sue you. If they have documentation to back up what has transpired than you can be sued for slander. (We always had to document every time a child hurt another child to protect ourselves from parents who may sue us because their child got injured.)

fizzbanger's avatar

Perhaps everything the daycare said was true. Little kids can be random and impulsive, easily instigated. Maybe there were a few isolated incidents and a teacher drew an incorrect conclusion from what they saw (teachers are not psychologists or health professionals). All they can tell you is what they see. That doesn’t mean your kid was bad, necessarily. Perhaps due to circumstances that no one could help, the place just wasn’t a good fit. Move on.

mrrich724's avatar

The only thought I have is if you don’t like a meal at a restaurant, don’t complain after having eaten the whole plate!

So maybe the whole years tuition is too much to request. Or maybe you shouldn’t have done it at the end of the year.

Also, what are you suing for, because they told you that hitting and biting is unacceptable? I can’t think of a situation where a four year old biting another human is acceptable except in self defense. And I don’t think I’m alone in stating that it’s definitely not normal.

As far as you getting in trouble for voicing your concerns, if you are correct in saying that other parents are complaining as well, I doubt you will get in trouble. You can’t get in trouble for speaking the truth, and the more other people fortify your stance, the more likely it becomes that people will accept that as truth rather than slander.

HungryGuy's avatar

Sounds to me like your school is being overly PC. IMO, you should move your kid to a different school for his sake.

geeky_mama's avatar

Was it right for the school to (falsely) suggest your child had a disorder? No. Absolutely they were off-base. They are educators, not pediatricians or pediatric psychiatrists and therefore should NEVER provide suggested diagnoses.
Was it wrong for them to ask you to consult your pediatrician to see if something more might be going on than normal 4-year old behavior? No, this is absolutely something that schools do…and it was not only their right but their mandate to do so. Wouldn’t you want to know if there was something about your child’s behavior that was making it harder for them (or their classmates) to learn?

See this timely article. Please bear in mind that teachers see your child in a different context and environment than you do and can sometimes provide a more objective opinion than our own love-clouded views of our children.
Sometimes however (as you’ve experienced) they can be off-base. If you KNOW your son and have seen him play with other children without exhibiting aggression on many other occasions – perhaps you have a better, more accurate picture.
However, if you only observed him once with his peers..maybe the teacher who interacted with him and his classmates day in and day out might have a valuable opinion to share with you.

I know it’s hard to hear something negative about your child – and boys are notoriously misdiagnosed with ADD or ODD or other disorders that really, honestly may just be normal “boy” behavior. They wrestle. They bug each other. They just act differently than girls. (Sorry, sounds sexist..and I don’t mean it to be…but I have both sons and daughters and the boys just play DIFFERENT than the girls. Always have).

I’d take this experience as one data point in your son’s educational career and move along.
You can’t get your money back YOU chose to withdraw him from the school mid-year.

You may have had the misfortune to find a school that had a new teacher, or teachers that had misguided opinions in what constitutes “normal” little boy behavior. A campaign smearing their name will NOT help you or them.

mrrich724's avatar

@geeky_mama I wish I could give you +100 GA’s :P

SavoirFaire's avatar

I’d like to remind everyone that @pallen123 has not said anything about suing the school. The question is what can be done short of litigation.

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