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Special education dispute? The IDEA provides the right to mediate

Part B of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Act, or IDEA, guarantees eligible children with disabilities that affect their education -- and their parents -- a variety of rights. The IDEA is meant to ensure all children access to a free and appropriate education. From the time a child is identified as potentially needing special education services to the transition into adulthood, however, parents and schools often find themselves at odds.

Even when everyone is focused on what’s best for the child, disagreements can arise about a wide variety of issues. Disputes can arise, for example, about the Individualized Education Program, accommodations needed for the child, behavioral problems at school, or even the disability itself. While IDEA disputes can be resolved formally through an official due process hearing or a complaint to the state, mediation is often a positive way to work out a resolution everyone can agree to.

Part B of the IDEA specifically requires school systems to make mediation available in IDEA disputes and to pay for its cost. Mediation cannot be used to delay a formal complaint or to deny parents and kids any of their rights. It can, however, still be requested even if a parent has already requested a due process hearing.

The state is also required to maintain a current list of education law mediators and rotate through that list on an impartial basis. Once an impartial, qualified mediator has been chosen, the state is responsible for the fee and all associated costs of the mediation.

IDEA mediation can only be used when both the school and the parent agree to it. The mediation sessions must be scheduled at a time and place convenient to both parties, and all may be required to sign a confidentiality agreement prior to beginning the mediation process.

As in any mediation, the goal is for the parent and school to arrive at a mutually agreeable solution. If they do, the parties sign a written agreement reflecting the resolution which is enforceable in court. Since the mediation process is confidential, if no agreement can be reached the discussions cannot be used as evidence in any formal education law process that comes later.

If you and your child’s school disagree about an education issue, we hope you’ll consider mediation. It can be a great way to reach a positive solution while preserving important working relationships.

Source:, "Mediation rights under IDEA," Diane Taylor, Dec. 11, 2013

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