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Special Education Tip of the Day: Preparing for Mediation

Accessibility, Education

by Rose Daly-Rooney, Legal Director

“A winning effort begins with preparation.”

Joe Gibbs

“Winning” in mediation is when parents and the school (or other public education agency) explore ideas for resolving a dispute and agree upon terms that will meet the interests of providing a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment to the student. Here are nine tips to help you prepare for a winning mediation.

  1. Know what process to expect.  Although mediation is informal, it is structured and has parts.  Those parts include:
    • an introduction and explanation from the mediator about the process;
    • a joint session in which each party has an uninterrupted time to explain the dispute to be resolved and to answer any follow up questions from the mediator or other side;
    • individual sessions/caucus in which each side has the opportunity to meet separately (alone or with the mediator) to consider the information and make decisions outside of the joint session; and
    • conclusion to work together to draft the mediation agreement if a consensus is reached.

Once you request mediation you will receive a packet that provides more information from the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) about the process.  Read it before the day of mediation.

  1. Decide who will attend the mediation with you and notify the mediator. According to ADE, each party may bring up to three individuals, not including an interpreter. For example, you may bring an attorney, advocate, family member, or professional involved in your child’s care or service delivery.
  2. Prepare a short statement or an outline for the opening session.  You can read or use these notes to explain the dispute, your intention to work cooperatively to resolve the dispute, and your interests and ideas for meeting those interests.  See Tip # 6 (below). After you finish it, ask yourself: will this statement help promote cooperation to solve this problem, or will it drive the parties apart?  Keep focused on the goal of reaching a resolution that will meet the unique educational needs of your child.
  3. Gather and organize all documents related to the dispute that you want to bring to mediation. The documents that will be helpful depend upon the type of dispute, but consider whether any of these documents would be relevant:
    • the current Individual Education Plan (IEP);
    • past IEPs;
    • Prior Written Notice documents;
    • progress notes, communication logs, email exchanges; and
    • non-school records, such as healthcare or behavioral healthcare information, evaluations, or recommendations from other professionals involved in your child’s care or treatment.  
  4. Make notes about questions you want to ask, important dates related to the dispute, and questions the other party is likely to ask and how you will respond.
  5. Think about—and make a list—of specific interests that need to be addressed and various solutions that may satisfy those interests. Be prepared to discuss your interests (on behalf of your child) and provide ideas and proposals to address that interest.  For example, an interest might be that your child makes progress in using a communication device.  Specific proposals to meet that interest might be more speech therapy, upgrades or changes to the device, increased staff training, more time in general education classes to use the device with typical peers, and/or better ways to track progress.
  6. Consider alternatives to resolving your interests. Be prepared with alternative solutions.  For example, if your child did not receive the time in the general education classroom listed in the IEP during the last semester because the district did not have an instructional aide to accompany her, you may have an idea about how that lost opportunity could be made up.  However, if you come prepared with more than one idea, you are in a better position to reach an agreement that meets your interest in providing your child with more opportunities to interact with typical peers.
  7. Consider how you will deal with emotions at the mediation. Often parents ask for mediation because the public education agency and the parent are at an impasse and relationships may be strained. While emotions may run high at times during a mediation, is it never constructive to raise your voice, interrupt others, or make personal attacks.  Think about ways you will deal with those times when emotions run high.  You may want to ask for a break or ask to caucus with the mediator.
  8. Get legal advice from an attorney who handles special education cases. If possible, you should ask for legal advice from an attorney specializing in special education law and representing parents so that you understand your child’s rights related to this dispute. You may also want to arrange for the attorney to represent you at mediation or to review the agreement before you sign it. You may search for an attorney on the directory of the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocate (COPPA) by selecting filter of “attorney”.

For more information about informal dispute resolution through mediation, visit the Center for Appropriate Dispute Resolution in Special Education or CADRE and CADRE’s Mediation Parent Guide.

Tomorrows Post: The Mediation Agreement

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