ACS WASC Complaint Process

Complaints are considered only when made in writing and when the complainant is clearly identified. Substantial evidence should be included in support of the allegation that the institution is in significant violation of the rules of good practice as stated in the Commission’s criteria, standards, and policies. Such evidence should state relevant and provable facts.

The ACS WASC Commission requires that each affiliated institution have in place student grievance and public complaint policies and procedures that are reasonable, fairly administered, and well publicized. A record of all written complaints received by the institution must be maintained and made available for review by ACS WASC upon request. The complainant should demonstrate that a serious effort has been made to pursue all review procedures provided by the institution.

All complaints must be filed using the correct form that is provided on the Complaint Process page of the ACS WASC website. All complaints must be signed; anonymous complaints are discarded. Complaints should be filed in the ACS WASC Southern California Office, 11590 West Bernardo Court, Suite 120, San Diego, CA 92127.

Complaints that are reviewed must be submitted with the signature of the complainant; in addition, the complainant must ensure that all means to resolve the issue have been exhausted and there is no current pending litigation.

It is the complainant’s responsibility to provide a clear description of evidence that backs up allegations, demonstrate that all remedies with the school’s governing board have been exhausted, confirm that the matter is under ACS WASC’s jurisdiction, affirm that the matter is not under litigation or threat of litigation, and that the complaint form is signed.

The excerpts from the Commission bylaws clearly explain the type of complaints that are not under the jurisdiction of ACS WASC.

ACS WASC Complaint Procedures

When the Commission receives a complaint about a candidate or accredited institution, it reviews that information to determine if it is relevant to the compliance of that institution with Commission standards. ACS WASC will respond to the complainant within 15 days.

If the complaint is deemed to be under ACS WASC’s jurisdiction, ACS WASC executive staff will contact the school in question and allow it to officially respond to the complaint. The Commission at all times reserves the right to request information of an affiliated institution and to visit that institution for purposes of fact finding consistent with Commission policy. Every effort will be made to complete the investigation and reach a conclusion within 90 days.

A pattern of concern which may evidence a significant lack of compliance with standards could cause the Commission to renew its consideration of the matter for whatever action may be appropriate. If information is received raising issues of institutional integrity, the Commission may invoke the sanctions provided for in policy.

Both the institution and the complainant will be notified of the outcome of the review of the complaint. The school and the complainant have the right to respond to ACS WASC’s findings within 30 days. Based on all the information received, the decision shared with the school and the complainant by the Executive Director is final. If the complaint was referred to ACS WASC by another agency, that agency will be notified of the findings.

Note: California Education Code Section 94332 requires that complaints filed against ACS WASC affiliated private institutions in California with the Bureau of Private Postsecondary Education (BPPE) be forwarded to ACS WASC for review.
Once a complaint has been received and it is clear that ACS WASC has jurisdiction in the matter, the Executive Director shall draft procedures for implementation of the complaints policy. The procedures shall adhere to the following criteria:

  • Protect the rights of both parties to be heard and to present evidence.
  • Take all reasonable measures to assure prompt resolution of the complaint.
  • Communicate in a timely manner to all parties regarding findings, conclusions, or rulings which are a result of investigation of the complaint.

If the results of the investigation corroborate the complaint, the Executive Director may direct the school to rectify the situation or take such other immediate action as he/she deems appropriate subject to ratification of the action by the Commission at its next meeting.

Examples of such other action might be:

  • An administrative letter of censure.
  • A written order to the school to show cause why accreditation status should not be withheld. The school must be notified of the specific grounds for adverse action, the specific standard(s) for which there has not been compliance, the nature of the action, and the right of the school to appeal.
  • A requirement that the school make official rectification to the complainant.
  • Other actions as deemed appropriate by the Executive Director in consultation with the Commission Chairperson.

What is ACS WASC’s role as a regulatory agency to investigate complaints against schools or school employees?

As an international accrediting agency, ACS WASC has a specific role to play in the education process. Its function is to measure the quality of student achievement and the supporting program in light of specific ACS WASC criteria established by the ACS WASC Commission.

Accreditation by ACS WASC is an expression of confidence that an institution is trustworthy for high-quality student learning and that it meets or exceeds the Commission’s standards of quality, integrity, and effectiveness. The Commission is concerned with institutional integrity and with performance consistent with Commission standards and policies. ACS WASC is focused on student learning results and continual school improvement.

What complaints are under the jurisdiction of ACS WASC?

While ACS WASC cannot intervene in the internal procedures of institutions or act as a regulatory body, the ACS WASC Commission can and does respond to complaints regarding allegations of conditions at affiliated institutions that raise significant questions about the institution’s compliance with the standards of conduct expected of an accredited institution. For example, ACS WASC investigates complaints that involve academic fraud, dishonesty in reporting grades, misrepresentation of academic programs and services offered, or disregard for ACS WASC criteria used to accredit all institutions. (ACS WASC Policy Subsection A15.1)

What complaints are not under the jurisdiction of ACS WASC?

It is a common misunderstanding that ACS WASC is an authoritative, supervisory body that oversees schools and the implementation of all their policies and procedures. The authority over schools lies with the local school’s governing body, not with ACS WASC accreditation. All disputes, concerns, complaints, etc. must be addressed by the local board or governing body that has the authority to respond. ACS WASC is not a regulatory body that has authority over the day-to-day operations of schools. It is not a legal court of appeals for complaints against member schools or any of their employees.

ACS WASC does not consider allegations concerning the personal lives of individuals connected with its affiliated institutions. It assumes no responsibility for adjudicating isolated individual grievances between students, faculty, or members of the public and individual institutions.  The Commission will not act as a court of appeal in matters of admission, granting or transfer of academic credit, grades, fees, student financial aid, student discipline, collective bargaining, faculty appointments, promotion, tenure, and dismissals or similar matters.

With regard to an affiliated institution operated or governed by a religious organization, the Commission will not respond to any complaint regarding the religious nature or programs of the school (e.g., a complaint about the orthodoxy of a religious service, textbook, or class will not be adjudicated by the Commission).
If any complainant has instituted or has threatened to institute litigation against the institution, no action under this procedure will be taken by the Commission while the matter is under judicial consideration. (ACS WASC Policy Subsection A15.2

What should be considered before filing a complaint?

Most complaints received by ACS WASC involve parental concerns regarding the actions of teachers, grading practices, discipline decisions, or athletic policies. These complaints are under the jurisdiction of the governing body of the school and are not under ACS WASC’s jurisdiction. The appropriate manner to address almost all concerns is to follow the line of authority for each local school.

For those who have concerns about public schools, including alternative schools, the line of authority to pursue to address issues is as follows:

  1. Specific school person(s) involved in the area of concern
  2. School administration
  3. School’s governing body
  4. District Leadership

For those who have concerns about a public charter school, the line of authority to pursue to address issues is as follows:

  1. Specific school person(s) involved in the area of concern
  2. School administration
  3. School’s governing body
  4. Sponsoring Charter District (or State)
  5. For those who have concerns about a private, religious, or independent school, the line of authority to pursue issues is as follows:
    1. Specific school person(s) involved in the area of concern
    2. School administration
    3. School’s governing body
    4. Affiliated State or National Organization (if applicable)

A common question is, “What if the line of authority regarding a complaint comes to a dead end; what if the line of authority has been followed to the end and there is no satisfactory resolution?”

The answers to this question are as follows:

  • It should be understood that sometimes there are individual or group concerns that reach no final resolution.
  • If no resolution is found, the only other possible recourse is through the legal system.
  • When a matter involves illegal activities or the safety of students, reports should be made immediately to the local law enforcement agencies, not ACS WASC.