Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Procedural Safeguards - The Series Part VI #dispute resolution

This is the sixth installment in a multi-part series on procedural safeguards under the federal special education law, the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act. I work a lot in this area, so it is near and dear to my heart. Despite the importance of procedural safeguards. however, many issues in this area are misunderstood. I hope that all of the different types of special education stakeholders who read this blog find the information in this series helpful. Be sure to tell me what you think about the series.

There are four dispute resolution mechanisms provided by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1400, et seq, (hereafter sometimes referred to as “IDEA”) and the accompanying federal regulations: mediation, state complaints, resolution sessions, and due process hearings. In addition, some states and districts are experimenting with fifth method-facilitated IEP meetings.

Special education disputes may be resolved through any of the five methods or by any combination of the methods. It is highly unusual under the law for an aggrieved party to be permitted to invoke more than one resolution option. Although mediation is often used in combination with litigation, it is rare for other formal methods to be combined. An unhappy party could file a state complaint wait for the results and then file a due process hearing over the same dispute. The same dispute can be submitted at any time in the process to mediation. A resolution session occurs in every due process filed by a parent unless waived or submitted to mediation in lieu thereof. It is true that if the complaint and due process are filed at the same time, the portions of the state complaint duplicating the due process complaint are held in abeyance until resolution of the due process, but if they are not filed at the same time, there is no prohibition upon the utilization of multiple methods. 

Adding to the frustration of this lack of finality is the fact that the result of most of the options may also be appealed to one or more levels of the court system. The U. S. Supreme Court has noted that the judicial review process for special education cases takes a long time, referring to the appellate process as “ponderous.” Town of Burlington v. Dept of Educ 471 U.S. 358, 105 S.Ct. 1996, 556 IDELR 389 (1985).

CADRE is the technical assistance agency for dispute resolution in special education. Here is their website. There are numerous helpful resources concerning this topic on this website.

This link is to the NICHCY Training Program – Module 18: Options for Dispute Resolution:

Here is the OSEP Questions and Answers (Document) On Procedural Safeguards and Due Process Procedures For Parents and Children With Disabilities:


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  2. I was wondering if you could tell me more about the 5th method of dispute resolution, facilitated IEP meetings. I was wondering what states were involved and who the facilitator would be in this setting. I feel this method would be more beneficial and, in many cases, more expedient to help resolve the dispute. Thanks for your help!

    1. Adam,

      Please stay tuned to this series. Although I cannot provide advice; information about both mechanisms will follow.