Parents, School Come Together in Spec Ed Mediation

Parents, School Come Together in Special Education Mediation

Special education mediation is a process in which a mediator helps families with a special needs child and school district personnel work together to create and implement a free, appropriate education.

The mediator is a third-party, neutral person who will help the participants come to a mutually satisfactory agreement. Mediators are trained not to offer opinions or solutions to the issues in dispute but rather to focus on assisting parties to hear one another’s concerns, identify common interests and seek out creative, mutually agreeable resolutions.

A mediated dialogue can take place at any point in the student’s education. This includes issues during the identification of a child in need of special education, to conflicts between parents and teachers or school principals, to questions regarding the child’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP), which is geared to a child’s learning needs and abilities. If the parents and educators are unable to work out the dispute themselves and a formal complaint is made, mediation is also a part of due process.

Why Should You Consider Special Education Mediation?

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) created a law that promises every child with a disability a “free appropriate public education,” which means individualized special education and related services designed to meet a child’s unique needs.

However, each school district may have its own plans, tools and curriculum to meet those needs. And parents may disagree with the school’s plan.

Parents may have concerns they feel are not being addressed, and mediation is one option available to them and the school district. Parties may request mediation because they are committed to mending damaged relationships, but feel the need for a third party, such as a mediator, to help.

“Special education mediation has been promoted as a valuable process, in part, because of its promise for resolving such conflicts in a way that prevents the escalation of adversarial relationships and fosters norms of collaboration among parents and schools,” note Branda L. Nowell and Deborah A. Salem, in the professional publication “Remedial and Special Education.”

Jane R. Wettach, Clinical Professor of Law, Duke Law School and Director of Duke Children’s Law Clinic, wrote in “Preparing for Special Education Mediation and Resolution Sessions,” that successful mediation participants are:

  • Mentally ready, open to fresh thinking, willing to entertain new ideas and prepared to see others’ points of view;
  • Open to seeing people in a new light;
  • Optimistic about resolving the situation;
  • Willing to accept some level of compromise;
  • Willing to accept someone else’s proposal;
  • Respectful of the school district personnel’s time/money/need to take other children into account;
  • Able to assume that all parties are operating in good faith, want to see the child make progress and will carry out agreements.

Tips for success in mediation

“Everyone should be encouraged to go beyond conventional thinking, offer ideas to the other participants in the negotiations and be open to suggestions from them,” noted Wettach. “Everyone should work hard to avoid criticizing new ideas prematurely. The goal is to broaden rather than eliminate options. Everyone should strive for mutual gain. Certainly, everyone in the special education process benefits when the students and teachers are successful and behavior problems are reduced.”

Special Education Mediation service at no cost

Concord Mediation Center has a contract with Nebraska’s Department of Education to provide special education mediation at NO COST to the parties involved.

If you have questions regarding special education mediation, please call us at 402-345-1131 .