Mediation is a tool available to help parents and school districts reach an agreement or come to a mutual understanding.
IDEA requires school systems to have a procedure that makes mediation available to parents and schools. Mediation is voluntary, which means that – in order to have a mediation – both the parents and the school district must agree to participate.
The purpose of the mediation is to give you and the school district a chance to:
During the Process
An impartial mediator will help lead the conversation. This mediator will not take sides or make decisions. All decisions must be made and agreed to by the parent(s) and the district. When an agreement has been reached, the parent(s) and school district must sign the written agreement for it to be legal.
No more than 3 people can accompany each party unless both agree to allow more. Someone with decision-making power must attend for the school district. There is nothing in the IDEA statutes or regulations that prohibit an attorney from attending a mediation on behalf of a parent or school district. However, the Missouri state Plan (pg. 63) states that “no attorney shall participate or attend on behalf of any party at the mediation session”. IDEA does acknowledge that the presence of an attorney could possibly contribute to an adversarial atmosphere. Either party can be accompanied by a non-attorney advocate.
You can request mediation anytime there is a disagreement, according to Part B of IDEA. You will be given the option to participate in mediation anytime you file a child complaint or due process complaint. The Mediation must be scheduled withing 15 days of picking a mediator and must be completed within 30 days of agreeing to mediation process. A time and location will be agreed to by both parties.
Choosing a Mediator
The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education maintains a list of qualified mediators. When both the parent(s) and school agree to mediate, they need to agree on and contact a mediator. That mediator must agree to take the case, or another mediator must be chosen. One party must inform the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education which mediator has been selected and the department will then confirm the appointment.
Note: Mediation cannot proceed until the appointment letter is issued by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. This ensures the department will pay for the mediator’s services. Only disputes that concern issues that could be raised in a Due Process Hearing or a Child Complaint are acceptable cases for state-paid mediation. However, parties can decide to go to mediation on other issues at their own cost.
In order for an individual to be a mediator, they must meet the following criteria:
- Must be impartial and not have any conflict of interest.
- Cannot be employed by the school district in charge of the care or education of the student.
- Cannot be employed by the State Board of Education.
- Must complete a minimum of 16 hours of training as a mediator.
- Must meet all regulations, requirements, and must agree to be compensated at a rate set by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE);
- Must provide DESE with a resume or a statement indicating their qualifications.
- Must be knowledgeable in laws and regulations concerning special education and related services.
The Mediation Agreement
Once an agreement is reached and signed, it will include a statement that anything discussed in the mediation sessions is to remain confidential and cannot be used as evidence in any due process hearing or civil hearing. The agreement must document specific terms that both parties agree to.
If an agreement is not reached, then the parent may file a due process complaint or a child complaint. If an agreement is not reached and the complaint has already been filed, then the state must investigate the complaint.
Reasons to Consider Mediation
Mediation can be an effective method of resolution between parties. The benefits of mediation include:
- Conflicts that arise out of misunderstandings or lack of shared information can be resolved through mediators helping parents and educators communicate directly with one another.
- Special education issues are complex and can best be resolved by working collaboratively.
- Mediation often results in lowered financial and emotional costs, especially when compared to due process. It also tends to be faster and less adversarial.
- Since mediation is voluntary both parties typically have more buy-in to reaching consensus. Mediation often results in a written agreement because both parties have an increased commitment to, and ownership of, the agreement.
- Remedies are often individually tailored and contain workable solutions that are easier for the parties to implement since they have both been involved in developing the specific details of the plan. Because both parties come to their own agreement, as opposed to a third party deciding the solution, there is generally more follow through and compliance with the terms of the agreement.