You are here
Negotiation Skills For Parents
Know When More Formal Action is Needed
If you are unable to resolve your concerns with the school in the IEP process, and you wish to pursue the issue further, there are additional avenues of conflict resolution available to you. There are three steps that are available to you under the special education law: case conference, administrative review and mediation. These methods of resolution are optional for both the parent and the school and do not have to be pursued before requesting an impartial due process hearing or filing a complaint.
It is not necessary to have an attorney or advocate for any of these methods. It might be better if the team can resolve issues without the participation of an attorney. However, in certain cases, attorneys generally get involved. These include cases where a request for due process has already been made, where the dispute is complicated or requires the expenditure of significant funds, and when you are asking for a service that the school has not provided before.
If the school involves an attorney at any point in the process, you should have one as well, if possible. To effectively proceed through the dispute resolution process, your attorney should have a thorough understanding of special education law. The Ohio Department of Education and the Ohio Legal Rights Service maintain lists of attorneys who have indicated a willingness to represent parents in special education matters.
A case conference is usually an informal meeting where you and the school review the evaluation, IEP or placement and attempt to settle problems. A case conference can be requested verbally or in writing at any time, and a written summary of the results of the conference should be placed in your child's file.
You may also request an administrative review with the superintendent or his or her designee to discuss your concerns and how to resolve problems with your child's education. This review can consist of a meeting with the superintendent where you discuss your concerns and try to reach a resolution or a documented hearing with the superintendent where you state your case and wait for the written decision of the superintendent. How the review is conducted is generally determined by the school. In either case, the superintendent must respond to you in writing within twenty days of the review.
The Ohio Department of Education encourages resolution of the issues during the review. The administrative review can be helpful where the superintendent has not been a part of the previous team, and once made aware of the situation, chooses to resolve the dispute. It can also be helpful in situations where the school representative at the IEP meeting did not feel comfortable making a final decision on an issue.
Ohio Department of Education Mediation
You may ask the Ohio Department of Education for a mediation of your concerns. Mediation can be requested before or after a request for an impartial due process hearing or filing a complaint. Mediation is voluntary. Both you and the school must agree to mediation in order to proceed. Sometimes mediation is more effective if it is requested in conjunction with an impartial due process hearing or filing a complaint. Schools may take a mediation more seriously when the resolution of a pending due process issue or complaint is at stake.
If the mediation involves an issue where the parties are far apart, the entire mediation may be conducted with the parties separated. In situations where the mediation involves an issue that is likely to get resolved, or where the parties are making fast progress towards resolution, it may be helpful to bring the parents and school together at some point during the process. You should discuss bringing the parties together with the mediator if you think it will be helpful in resolving the dispute.
If agreement is reached in the mediation, it must be written down in a mediation agreement that is signed by the school and parents. The terms of the agreement are determined by the school and parents. All parties in the mediation should receive a copy of the agreement. This agreement becomes a part of your child's educational record and is confidential.
Generally, if mediation is successful and there has been a request for an impartial due process hearing or a complaint filed with the Ohio Department of Education, the school or parent will request the withdrawal of the complaint or hearing request. Often, there is no longer a need for the hearing or complaint because the mediation agreement resolved all the issues. In such cases, it may be acceptable to withdraw the complaint or hearing request. In some cases, a mediation agreement might only resolve some of the issues. In such cases, it might not be appropriate to withdraw the complaint or request for hearing. In all cases, if you are represented by an attorney for the hearing, complaint or mediation, you should consult with your attorney before withdrawing any request for hearing or complaint.
It is important to maintain consistency in your negotiations during this process. It is not appropriate to increase your demands as the process moves forward. To avoid this problem, make sure that you have clearly defined what you want for your child at the beginning of the negotiation process. Remember that negotiation involves compromise and that you do not always get everything that you want using this process. Therefore, you may want to set priorities for things that you want for your child and determine the issues on which you are willing to compromise.
Keep an open mind during the mediation process and focus on the future. Focusing on the school's past mistakes will inhibit your ability to reach agreement at mediation. The school personnel at mediation may not be the individuals working with your child when past mistakes occurred. Too much discussion of the past also can annoy and anger school staff and can discourage a cooperative atmosphere. Being at mediation signals the participant's willingness to forget the past and move forward to serve the child appropriately. Mediation is a cooperative rather than a competitive approach to resolving disputes. As such, mediation encourages parents and schools to work together to solve the problems they share.
Five Stages of Mediation
The following table lists the stages of the mediation process.
|Introduction||Introduction of the participants and overview of the mediation process. This is done by the mediator.|
|Presentation||The parents and the school will tell their story and explain what they want for the child.|
|Negotiation||The parents and school may go to separate rooms. Usually the person who requested the mediation is first to suggest solutions to the dispute in the form of a proposal that is shared with the other party by the mediator. The mediator may travel back and forth between the parties until agreement is reached or the parties agree that they cannot resolve the dispute through mediation.|
|Agreement||In the event agreement is reached, the parties develop a written agreement that specifies what the parties determined would resolve the dispute.|
|Closing||The agreement is signed and copies are provided to the participants. A closing statement is generally made by the mediator thanking the parties for their participation and hard work on behalf of the child.|