Special Education Mediation Fosters Conflict Resolution

Mediations can avoid involving the legal system in disputes

A discussion during a mediation.
A discussion during a mediation. Steve Debenport/E+/Getty Images

Special education mediations take place when parents and schools disagree on special education programs for students with learning disabilities. Because reaching a resolution can be difficult when such conflicts arise, mediation often follows.

Get acquainted with the mediation process by learning the steps that must happen to enable a mediation to occur, the parts of a mediation and how to proceed when negotiations fail.

All Parties Must Agree to Mediate

Mediation is a voluntary process. That is, parents and school administrators must voluntarily agree to participate in mediation.

Parents or school administrators may want to consider mediation when they want to avoid a more adversarial due process hearing or desire an impartial and knowledgeable person to manage communication to ensure everyone is civil and is heard.

They may also consider mediation when negotiations in IEP team meetings have stalled, and they want to resolve the matter without attorney involvement or more adversarial resolution methods.

Requesting and Planning a Session

The parents or school district may request mediation by contacting their state department of education office of exceptional children. The state department will assist in scheduling a mediator or providing contact information for mediators to the parties. The mediator will work with both parties to arrange the date, time and place for the meeting.

In most cases, the parties will have the option of conducting the meeting at a school district office or in a neutral location such as a private meeting room in a local library, business or government facility.

When Mediation Begins

Most mediators conduct a meeting with both parties to explain the "ground rules" for how the mediation will proceed and the agenda for the meeting. They also have each participant sign an agreement to mediate the issue. The mediator or another individual will document the meeting process and ensure the points of negotiation are recorded.

Identifying the Issues

The format for mediations may vary, depending on the situation and the training of the mediator. In most cases, mediation has three phases. The first phase involves defining the issues. It may seem simplistic, but determining exactly the points of disagreement is the first and most important part of the mediation process. Defining the issues in a clear, concise manner will help participants identify ways to resolve the issues.

Negotiating Resolutions to the Issues

The second part of a mediation session is negotiating resolutions to the issues identified in the discussion. Typically, both parties have the opportunity to state their opinions on how the matters can be resolved. During this phase, the parties may meet individually with the mediator in a caucus.

In these private meetings, the parties may research their options, learn more about their legal rights and obligations and other matters related to the issues. The mediator will keep both sides' confidentiality and also identify common areas of agreement to help steer the parties toward resolution.

Writing the Agreement

The final part of the mediation process is writing the agreement. The agreement will include the points of disagreement and the resolutions agreed upon by the parties. It will also include a timetable for implementation of the resolution. The parties will sign the agreement, and copies will be given to all parties. The mediation will be concluded, and the parties will be obligated to abide by the terms of the agreement.

What Happens if Negotiations Fail

Mediators are trained to help parties communicate and reach an agreement, even when negotiations become hostile. Even the most difficult conversations can be successful with a good mediator managing the process. However, in some cases, negotiations do fail.

When this happens, the parties still have available to them other processes to resolve the matter. Either may file a request for a formal due process hearing, or the parents may file a formal complaint. Both of these means of resolution are typically managed by the state's department of education office of special education.

Get Free Mediation Services

Learn how and where to get free mediation services to address special education issues in public schools. Form letters are available for download to help you get started.

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