Mediation Lawyers in Los Angeles
Help with Informal and Formal Resolution Sessions
Do You Need to Resolve a Dispute with the School District?
Maybe you disagree with the district’s assessment of the nature of your child’s disability. Maybe you disagree with the proposed Individual Education Plan (IEP) mapping out your child’s time in the classroom. Or maybe you have another complaint about the way they’re treating you.
No matter what hurdles your family is going through to get your children the education they are owed, our team at Woodsmall Law Group can help. As experienced special education attorneys based in Pasadena who serve the East side of Los Angeles, we know these school districts, regional centers, and courtrooms well. After you call us at (626) 440-0028, we’ll schedule a free initial sit-down to go over your child’s needs and develop a long-term plan. Once you engage us, we will advocate for your child in every aspect of education, community, and transition services.
Don’t hesitate to reach out for any issue, if only to receive free advice from us that should help your family.
Your Rights as a Parent
Before getting into the “meat” of this topic, we want to go over your rights, as a parent, in the special education process.
- Right to be given procedural safeguards in writing and have them explained.
- Right to give or deny consent on the school’s actions.
- Right to look at your child’s records. This lasts until your child transitions to college and assumes their own rights, or you petition to have power of attorney.
- Right to partake in meetings. This does not extend to informal or unplanned discussions between staff members, however.
- Right to be involved in placement decisions.
- Right to request an IEP (Individual Education Program) meeting at any time.
- Right to obtain an independent educational evaluation (IEE) for your child at no cost, if you disagree with the agency’s assessment. You may have only one (at public expense) per disagreement.
- Right to appeal a decision or determination.
- Right to have prior written notice.
The school district must inform you if it is making changes to the services it provides to your child and why. It must describe other options and tests or records used to make the decisions, and remind you about your rights. It must inform you when it says no to requests from you, wants to reclassify your child’s disability, or wants to conduct an evaluation – even if you were phoned or emailed, the school district still has to send written notice.
Prior written notice gives you an opportunity to respond before any changes are made. If you don’t agree with the action the school plans to take or the school refuses to send you prior written notice, you can put your objections in writing. If you ask for mediation or a due process hearing in your letter, you’ll trigger the “stay put” provision. That means no changes can be made until you and the school resolve your differences. You may be able to work out your disagreement in a meeting.
That’s where dispute resolution comes in.
What Is Informal Resolution?
Trying to resolve your differences without a third party present is generally considered an “informal” dispute resolution. Since you, as a parent, have the right to request an IEP meeting at any time, you can do so and try to hash out your differences with the district. Showing a willingness to work together can be valuable, but you should stand firm for your child’s rights. If you feel progress isn’t being made, or that goals are unreasonable, you can address these issues at the reconvened IEP meeting.
If a compromise can’t be reached, another option that is becoming more popular is a facilitated IEP meeting. Certain municipalities and private companies offer facilitators – neutral third parties – to sit-in on the IEP meeting and attempt to resolve the differences. It should be noted that facilitated IEP meetings are not covered under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), so there is no requirement for the school district to have one.
What Is Formal Resolution?
When informal resolution fails to discuss results, IDEA gives parents several options.
- Mediation (covered under IDEA Part B §300.506): Mediation is a mutual process involving a qualified, impartial mediator. The school district cannot use mediation to keep a parent from filing a state complaint or initiating a due process hearing – it must be voluntary for both parents and district. If you choose not to undergo mediation, the school must offer an opportunity, time, and location to meet with the parents with another disinterested third party to explain the benefits of mediation. The State of California maintains a list of qualified mediators who will be assigned to the case at random. The State bears the costs of the mediation process. Everything discussed in mediation will be kept confidential and may not be used in a subsequent due process hearing or civil proceeding. The parties must sign a legally binding agreement if they resolve their dispute through mediation.
- Filing a state complaint (§300.153): Either you as an individual, or an organization on your child’s behalf, can file a written complaint against the school district or agency that is violating IDEA. It will go to the State Education Agency (SEA), which should also have forms and resources to help you draft and sign the complaint, and what specific evidence and statements of fact are needed. The school district can respond to the complaint and offer a proposal to resolve it, but it’s up to the SEA resolve the complaint, normally within 60 days. The SEA may even step in with corrective action, such as compensatory services or financial reimbursement for the family, if the situation warrants it.
- Filing a due process complaint: Similar to mediation, a due process complaint involves an outside third party to control and guide the dispute between parents and the school district with regard to special education services. The district can also file a due process complaint to request a hearing (for example, to show that its evaluation of the child is appropriate) as well – if they do, you as a parent are still entitled to an independent evaluation, but not at public expense. The hearing officer may also request an independent educational evaluation as part of the due process complaint, and it will be at public expense. At the hearing, both you and the district have a formal legal setting to present witnesses, testimony, evidence, and be represented by a lawyer. The hearing officer’s decision comes within 45 days of the resolution period expiring, and his or her decision is final if not appealed right away.
IDEA Part B mediation and due process procedures are for parents who disagree with the IEP Team determinations on needs and/or services that are appropriate and necessary for children to receive a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).
Parents may opt to place their child in a private school if they feel FAPE is denied. If the court or hearing officer later determines that the school failed to make FAPE available in a timely manner prior to this private school placement, that the placement is appropriate, and that the parents provided notice to the district, the parents can recover the costs of private placement.
You child has rights, given by both the state and federal government. When you believe those rights are being violated, or that you are being sidelined or misinformed, please do not hesitate to contact Woodsmall Law Group. We have been assisting families in the San Gabriel Valley and beyond for over 20 years. Every local district has different procedures to resolve disputes, and it’s our job as special education attorneys to take the burden off of you and make sure everything possible is done for your child. Please call (626) 440-0028 to find out more and ask your questions. We’re here to help.