In 2007, PERAA (the “Public Education Reform Amendment Act of 2007”) initiated landmark education reform in the District of Columbia.The Office of Ombudsman for Public Education was established as a central venue for parents to register concerns and resolve disputes. The office was also intended to provide transparency and accountability as the new educational system for DC evolved.
The PERAA law laid out responsibilities for the Office of the Ombudsman, which included
- reaching out to parents and residents; serving as a vehicle for communication;
- receiving complaints and concerns, determining their validity, developing a response to complaints;
- identifying systemic problems; making recommendations based on observed patterns; and
- issuing annual reports.
Despite its essential role, the office was defunded for several years. In 2012, the Council of the District of Columbia recognized the continuing great need and strong community desire for such an entity, and re-established the Ombudsman’s office within the State Board of Education through the “State Board of Education Personnel Authority Amendment Act of 2012.”
Accordingly, the office was re-established and with the appointment of an Ombudsman for Public Education, the office formally re-opened its doors to District of Columbia families on February 26, 2014.
In 2016, the organizing statute authorizing the existence of the office was updated. This "State Board of Education Omnibus Amendment Act of 2016" to strengthen the office's ability to address concerns impartially and independently by formalizing the budget and personnel authority of the Ombudsman.
Ombudsman for Public Education
Serena M. Hayes was appointed to her role at the January public meeting for a term of five years, beginning on January 22, 2019. Mrs. Hayes, a resident of Ward 5, is a graduate of the Howard University Law School and earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology, sociology, and anthropology from Washington and Lee University. Ms. Hayes has coached individuals and groups on conflict resolution strategies, and empowered families in developing self-awareness, and in finding and using their voice. She has provided training across the District in conflict management and has provided re-entry mediation services at the D.C. Jail. She received the 2017 Lorig Charkoudian Volunteer of the Year award for commitment to mediation, for exemplifying quality in the delivery of mediation, and dedication to furthering her mediation skills. Ms. Hayes also facilitated large group discussion for the consent decree issued after the death of Freddie Gray, where listening sessions were held for Baltimoreans to generate criteria that would be used to monitor police conduct and improve the relationship between police and the city residents.
Assistant Ombudsman for Public Education
Ryvell D. Fitzpatrick was hired as an Assistant Ombudsman for Public Education in August 2018. As a student and a teacher in the Mississippi Delta, he developed a deep passion for the success of the public education system. He has worked with students at every educational level: primary, secondary, undergraduate, and graduate. Prior to joining the Office of the Ombudsman, Ryvell served as a Fellow for the Office of the Student Advocate for over a year. He has also worked with the American Civil Liberties Union, Mississippi Center for Justice, and Amara Legal Center. Ryvell received a B.S. in Secondary Education from Mississippi State University and a J.D. from Howard University School of Law.
Crystal Williams was hired as an Assistant Ombudsman for Public Education in March 2020. Prior to joining the Office of the Ombudsman, she spent the last 3 years in the nonprivate sector where she worked directly with individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Additionally, Crystal worked in case management for students in Ward 8: Wellington Park, and as an internationally contracted Behavior Therapist. She is a graduate of Clark Atlanta University where she earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology. Crystal is committed to ensuring individuals with differing abilities receive quality education. Recreationally, Crystal enjoys all things outdoors. In her spare time she practices yoga and loves a good plant-based burger.
Stephanie Arias was hired as the Program Associate for the Office of the Ombudsman in May of 2019. Stephanie has spent the last 3 years working with multicultural youth from elementary to high school grade levels. Stephanie is a DC native who, prior to joining the team, served as a Youth Development Representative for the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services. She also served as a Bilingual Case Manager for the Collaborative Solutions for Communities, where she partnered with famliies and 14 DCPS elementary, middle, and high schools to reduce/prevent student truancy by providing support and services to families in need. Stephanie was trained in Solution-Focused Brief Therapy and Family Group Conferencing and she hopes to utilize these skills when assisting families whom contact the Office of the Ombudsman. Stephanie is passionate about assisting students reach their educational goals. Stephanie received her B.A. in Criminal Justice from Trinity Washington University.