Special Education Mediation

Mediation, meee–deee-aayyy-shun! I’m singing that in the Cat in the Hat tune. Have you seen that episode where he sings about hibernation? Well, that’s what I think of when people talk about IEPs and mediation. I end up singing that term in my head. But enough about my ear worms. You’re here because you need to know more about IEP and Special Education Mediation.

special education mediation

I’m going to go over what mediation is, how it is used in the IEP and Special Education process. (Please note that this post will contain my experiences which are all in PA, your mileage may vary!)

What is IEP Mediation?

Mediation is an option in the dispute resolution process. If things are not going well and you and your district cannot come to an agreement on all or part of the IEP, you have several options. Yes, you can file for Due Process. But, prior to going to Due Process, you have other options. And one of those options is mediation.

Mediation: Different States, Different Rules.

Read your Procedural Safeguards and read your state’s website that contains your Mediation information. Pennsylvania’s is called the Office for Dispute Resolution or ODR. Some specific details will vary from state to state. For example, PA does not allow attorneys at Mediation, but other states do. You can read all of Pennsylvania’s Special Education dispute options HERE.

My Experience with Special Ed Mediation.

I have been to mediation several times with clients. Since advocates are allowed but attorneys are not, it is very common to have an advocate’s support in mediation. {Note: Some states allow attorneys at mediation. PA does not.}

Generally what happens is that you’ve had a series of IEP meetings and lots of email going back and forth. Finally the district basically just says “no” and this is what we are offering. When I have gone to mediation, it always was preceded by an IEP meeting, during which the LEA said, “Well, when we send the final IEP and NOREP (PWN), this is what it will say….” and usually the item(s) we wanted are not on that list.

Decision Time for Parents

So the parent gets the paperwork and has a decision to make. You can accept it or not. And you have several options of what you are going to do. One of those is to “file for mediation.” You check this box on your NOREP/PWN and then head on over to the ODR website and do the mediation paperwork.

This is assuming, of course, that you have already read about mediation, discussed it with your advocate or spouse, and considered it carefully.

What to Expect once you File for Mediation.

Once ODR gets the paperwork, they assign you a mediator. They ask you for a list of dates that you could do this, and they assign a date, time and place. Mediation can take all day and they tell you leave all day open.

Yeah, that’s not fair, I get it. You have to take a day off of work as a parent, and for the rest of the team, it’s a work day. Not fair, but something over which we have no control. It is what it is.

Like anything else, there are good mediators and there are not-so-great ones. I have had really fair, impartial, active mediators that got us on the same page quickly. And I have had some who basically introduced themselves and then said, “Well, I’m just here to make sure that the conversation stays focused on {name of student}” and then went and sat in the corner. I really should have reported him, as he acted more like a facilitator, not a mediator.

We got no where and wasted half a day. But I digress. Ask around, ask other families, in support groups, ask advocates what they know about this mediator.

The mediator’s role is NOT to make sure that things are done fairly. Their role is to have everyone come to an agreement. That day, a good mediator is typing up an agreement as you are working at the meeting, and at the end of it all, you sign a written agreement. The WHOLE team who was there signs it, and it is binding.

Again, this is why I brow beat all of you all the time about doing everything in writing. You want to have all of your documentation with you. This isn’t about showing who said what. It’s about proving what your child needs, and making the case for it. So you want to have all your data with you.

The school can say no.

A wrench in the works-schools can refuse mediation. So, you can get mentally prepared for it, check the box, fill out the ODR paperwork, and they can refuse. That then forces your hand to either accept the IEP or file for Due Process. Again, more brow beating!

This is why the documentation is so important and why you have to continually prepare yourself as if you were going to file for DP. Before you go to mediation, I would at least consult with an attorney and let them know your plans. That way if the school refuses mediation you are set up to file for DP if necessary. Or, you are prepared to receive a NOREP/PWN that says that the school has already filed for DP which can happen too. But, should you end up in Due Process, schools look very uncooperative if they refuse mediation.

Personally, if you are great at your documentation and you know that you have the data, mediation is not scary. Sure, it can be nerve-wracking and stressful, but with proper preparation, you will do fine.

Preparing for IEP Mediation

  • Prepare an opening statement.
  • No more than 1-2 pages and it will be read at the beginning of meeting.
  • State why you are there, a brief overview of why your child needs this and why it is appropriate.
  • Get a little sentimental but not weepy.
  • Have your opening paragraph be a few sentences about your awesome child and what makes them awesome.
  • End the statement with that as well-how this is appropriate for your child and how it will benefit from them.
  • Stay away from words like “This is the best option…” because IDEA says only that it has to be appropriate, not best.
  • Have others proofread it for you.

Tips for a Successful IEP Mediation

For the day of mediation, get yourself prepared.

  • Get child care for other kids.
  • Eat well.
  • Sleep well.
  • Dress well.
  • Pack a lunch or snacks to keep in the car.
  • Go for a walk/run, meditate, or exercise.
  • Do what it takes to get yourself centered and confident for that day.
  • Have your notes and plans ready.
  • Go to the office supply store and make copies of things to hand out.
  • Have a note pad, pens, your phone turned off.
  • Bring only essential support people such as spouses and advocates and home staff (like home BCBAs).
  • Leave grandparents and other emotional supports at home this time. It can be lengthy, and only if your grandparent/family member is experienced in the field and may have technical information to add, should they be included.

And that’s really it. Please ask if you have any questions or ask in our Facebook group. Many folks have been through it (and survived!) and we want to take away the mystery for you, because it often does work.

One last bit of information is the booklet from Dept of Ed: