As a parent, you may at times disagree with decisions made by the school district that relate to your child’s special education needs. While it may feel like going against the school district is a lengthy and costly endeavor, that is not always the case. Under the IDEA law, you have the option to bring a complaint against the school district in several different ways: a due process hearing, filing a complaint investigation, and through participating in mediation. These requests are filed with the Director of the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) and there are forms available on the State website to help start the process.
As an alternative to filing for a due process hearing (in court), a parent may choose to file a complaint or allegation that the district has violated an aspect of special education law. A complaint is fairly easy to file and forms are available on the State’s website. Once a formal complaint is filed, OSEP has a 10-day period to try to resolve the matter through mediation, before they begin their own investigation. This is referred to as an opportunity for early resolution. This early resolution is generally conducted in the form of mediation with the school district. Mediation is completely voluntary, but often a more relaxed way of seeking the relief you desire. There are several benefits to voluntary mediation:
- The State must pay for the mediation. If you choose to represent yourself at the mediation, the process would be of no cost to you, the parent.
- The mediation must be conducted by a qualified, trained, and impartial mediator.
- If an agreement cannot be reached at the mediation, you can still continue with your formal complaint or request a due process hearing. Additionally, the content of the mediation conference remains confidential and cannot be later used by the district in a court proceeding.
At a mediation, the mediator will hear your side and requests and will also listen to the district’s response. The mediator’s role is to assist the parties to communicate the concerns, in the hope to reach an agreement. If an agreement is reached, the mediator will write down the agreement and have it signed by both parties, making it legally binding.
In a formal complaint, if the parties are unable to come to an agreement in a mediation, OSEP will begin its investigation into the matter. They will collect information, conduct interviews, and review documentation about the issues raised in the complaint. They will review these materials to make a determination about whether the education agency was compliant. After their investigation, OSEP will issue a report, including their findings and corrective actions, if any.
If you have concerns about filing a complaint or preparing for a mediation, it it best to contact a special education attorney to help guide you through the process.