Dispute Resolution Options

In drafting the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Congress clearly contemplated that, at times, there would be disagreements between parents of children with disabilities and those providing services to their children under IDEA.

Ultimately, there are times when we simply do not agree on some issue affecting a child’s education and services. They may try informal approaches to resolving the conflict, but when these don’t result in agreement, the law (IDEA) provides approaches to help resolve the dispute:  mediation, filing a state complaint, and due process.

Several mechanisms are available through the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) to assist in resolving disputes. The processes listed in the Special Education Handbook are:

  1. individualized education program (IEP) facilitation,
  2. mediation,
  3. formal complaints,
  4. due process hearings,
    • facilitated resolution sessions, and
    • expedited due process hearings.

Adapted from:  Resolving Disputes Between Parents and Schools, The Center for Parent Information and Resources.


Informal Approaches

In all cases of disagreement, it is important for both sides to first discuss their concerns and try to compromise.  Although the IDEA provided resolution methods are the same for all children birth until they graduate high school, the informal approaches are not.  For children who are birth up to age 3, their services would be provided by the Early Intervention Services, called SoonerStart.  For children age 3 until graduation, their services would be provided by the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s Special Education Services (OSDE-SES) through your local school district.

SoonerStart: 

Informal dispute resolutions to see to resolve the concern without the use of formal procedures include working with:

  1. the SoonerStart Service Coordinator;
  2. the local SoonerStart site regional Early Intervention Coordinator (REIC); and/or
  3. contacting the SoonerStart Part C Coordinator at the Oklahoma State Department of Education.

Click here for a SoonerStart contact list.

Special Education Services:

Informal dispute resolutions in which parents and school staff might attempt to work out disagreements regarding a child’s special education program include:

  1. Individualized Education Program (IEP) review; and/or
  2. Facilitated IEP Meeting.
What is an IEP Review?

The parents of a child with a disability and the school both have the right to request an IEP meeting at any time.  After the annual IEP review has taken place, if a parent has concerns about his or her child’s rate of progress, the appropriateness of the services provided to the child, or the child’s educational placement, it would be appropriate for the parents to request that the IEP team reconvene. At that meeting, the parent and public agency can discuss the parent’s concerns and, hopefully, as collaborative members of the IEP team, work toward a solution that is agreeable to all.  Each member of the IEP team has a role in the decision-making process.

What is a Facilitated IEP Meeting?

IEP Facilitation is an optional process, not required by the IDEA, that the OSDE-SES, through a contract with the Special Education Resolution Center (SERC), provides to parents and schools. A facilitated IEP meeting is the same as any other IEP meeting, except that a facilitator joins the meeting.   Your participation in the facilitated IEP meeting does not affect your parental rights to formal dispute resolution options.

A request for IEP facilitation may be made by the parent and/or adult student or by an school district representative, such as the director of special education. Requests may be made in writing or by phone to SERC.  For more information, visit SERC’s page regarding IEP FacilitationEach member of the IEP team has a role in the decision-making process.

The Center for Appropriate Dispute Resolution in Special Education (CADRE), the national technical assistance center on dispute resolution, has developed a wonderful guide for parents over IEP Facilitation.


Formal Approaches

If parents and the school still cannot reach an agreement, it’s good to know that IDEA includes specific and formal ways for them to resolve the conflict.  They are:

  1. Mediation,
  2. Filing a State Complaint, and
  3. Due Process.

Mediation:

In mediation, parents and school personnel sit down with an impartial third person (called a mediator), talk openly about the areas where they disagree, and try to reach agreement.

The OSDE has developed a mediation system to help resolve disagreements between schools and parents and/or adult students regarding the identification, evaluation, educational placement, and the provision of a free appropriate public education (FAPE). A request for mediation may be made by the parent and/or adult student or the school at any point without the necessity of requesting a due process hearing. Requests may be made in writing or by phone to SERC. The ultimate goal of mediation is to obtain a written agreement that is acceptable to both parties. Mediation agreements are legally binding. Even if a written agreement is not achieved, mediation may be helpful in clarifying issues.  The decision-making power resides with the participants in mediation.

The Special Education Resolution Center (SERC) appoints a neutral mediator who carries out all of the mediation activities.   For more information or to schedule a mediation, visit the Mediation page on SERC’s website.  There is no fee for mediation!

The Center for Appropriate Dispute Resolution in Special Education (CADRE), the national technical assistance center on dispute resolution, has developed a wonderful guide for parents over Mediation.

Filing A State Complaint:

A state complaint may be filed by parents or by an organization or individual, including those from another state. Written directly to the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s Special Education Services (OSDE-SES), state complaints must describe what requirement of IDEA the school has violated, among other specific things. They must also be signed.

The OSDE-SES’s complaint procedures can be obtained by request (at 405-521-3351), found on their website, and in the Oklahoma Special Education Handbook (Chapter 13, Section 4).  A form has been developed to help with this process.  Although this form is not required to file a complaint, there is specific information which must be included in the complaint that is included on the form.  The OSDE will notify the complainant if the submission is insufficient and will request additional information.  The OSDE is responsible for ensuring that an investigation is done, if necessary, and a decision is made about the complaint.

SoonerStart also has procedures for filing and resolving specific written complaints regarding alleged violations of the requirements under Part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  You can locate the Complaint Brochure and Formal Complaint Form on the SoonerStart Families page.

The Center for Appropriate Dispute Resolution in Special Education (CADRE), the national technical assistance center on dispute resolution, has developed a wonderful guide for parents over Written State Complaints.

Due Process:

When due process is used as a way to resolve disputes, parents and the school present evidence before an impartial third person (called a hearing officer), and he or she decides how to resolve the problem based upon that evidence and the requirements of the IDEA.  A due process hearing is a court-like review process governed by administrative laws.

SERC will provide a highly-trained hearing officer who will preside over the hearing and whose decisions have the effect of law and are binding upon the parties participating in the hearing.  There are special rules that apply to Due Process proceedings; they are located in the Due Process in Special Education:  Guidelines for Parents and School Administrators and in the Oklahoma Special Education Handbook.

During a hearing, both parties subpoena and present witnesses and perform cross examination; present admissible evidence; may present depositions or affidavits; engage in closing arguments; and request that the hearing officer rule favorably on their positions. Parties may represent themselves or be represented by attorneys at their own expense.  The hearing officer makes the decision.  If the decision is appealed, a judge makes the decision.

Oklahoma’s due process system has 2 types of hearings, a regular due process hearing and an expedited due process hearing.  Visit the Due Process Hearing page on SERC’s website for more information as well as forms to assist in filing a complaint.

1) A regular due process hearing is an administrative hearing to resolve disputes on any matter related to the identification, evaluation, educational placement, and the provision of a free appropriate public education (FAPE).

2) An expedited due process hearing is an administrative hearing to resolve disputes concerning discipline.  The expedited hearing will occur within 20 school days of the request, with a decision rendered within 10 school days of the hearing.

The Center for Appropriate Dispute Resolution in Special Education (CADRE), the national technical assistance center on dispute resolution, has developed a wonderful guide for parents over Due Process Complaints/Hearing Requests including Expedited Hearing Requests.

The Office of Special Education Programs issued this Q&A document on July 23, 2013 to provide parents, parent training and information centers, school personnel, state educational agencies (SEAs), local educational agencies (LEAs), advocacy organizations, and other interested parties with information to facilitate appropriate implementation of the IDEA dispute resolution procedures, including mediation, state complaint procedures, and due process complaint and due process hearing procedures. This Q&A document represents the Department’s current thinking on these topics.

The Resolution Process:

IDEA now requires that school systems convene a resolution meeting within 15 days of receiving notice that a parent has filed a due process complaint and before the school system initiates the due process hearing hearing. The resolution process became part of IDEA in its most recent amendments (2004).

The purpose of the resolution meeting is for parents to discuss their due process complaint and the facts that form the basis of that complaint, so that the school system has the opportunity to resolve the dispute without holding a due process hearing.

There are only two circumstances in which the resolution meeting may be skipped:

  • if both parties agree in writing to waive the meeting, or
  • if both agree to use the mediation process instead.

Interestingly, convening a resolution meeting is not required if the public agency files the due process complaint.

The Center for Appropriate Dispute Resolution in Special Education (CADRE), the national technical assistance center on dispute resolution, has developed a wonderful guide for parents over Resolution Meetings.


Dispute Resolution Resources

We, the Oklahoma Parents Center, are here to help you with any questions that you may have.  You can call our toll-free number (877-553-4332), email us, or submit a question online.  However, we are providing you some additional resources below to find more information regarding dispute resolution!

Oklahoma State Department of Education, Special Education Services
Dispute Resolution Coordinator
2500 N. Lincoln Blvd.
Oklahoma City, OK 73105
Local: 405-521-3351
Facsimile: 405-522-2380

SoonerStart

Special Education Resolution Center (SERC)
Oklahoma State University
9726 E. 42nd Street, Suite 203
Tulsa, OK 74146
Toll Free: 888-267-0028
Local: 918-712-9632
Facsimile: 918-712-9058

Oklahoma Disability Law Center
2915 Classen Boulevard, Suite 300
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73106
Toll Free: 800-880-7755
Local: 405-525-7755
Facsimile: 405-525-7759

The Center for Appropriate Dispute Resolution in Special Education

The Center for Parent Information and Resources