6 options for resolving an IEP dispute

At a glance

  • You and the school may disagree about your child’s IEP.

  • Federal law gives you several ways to resolve the dispute.

  • The options for dispute resolution range from negotiation to a due process hearing, which is like a courtroom trial.

No matter how good your relationship with a school, there may come a time when you and the school disagree about your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP). Conflicts can arise over the amount or type of help in the IEP. Or you may not agree about your child’s placement.

The good news is that the (IDEA) gives you several ways to resolve disputes. Here are six options for resolving an IEP dispute.

Option 1: Negotiation

You’re part of the IEP team. In fact, you can call an IEP team meeting at any time. This brings together you, your child’s general and teachers, and the school to discuss your child’s education.

Just calling this meeting is a powerful way to jump-start a solution. Perhaps your child’s IEP requires an hour of speech therapy a week. But you find out that the school has skipped several weeks of therapy. You can call an IEP team meeting right away to discuss how to fix this problem.

Option 2: Mediation

If the IEP process isn’t working, you can ask for mediation. This is a free, confidential, and voluntary process where you sit down with the school and a neutral third party to work out a solution. (The third party is called a mediator.)

The mediator doesn’t take sides or tell you what to do. Instead, the mediator tries to help you reach a solution with the school that works for everyone. You can ask for mediation at any time. The decisions are legally binding.

Option 3: Due process hearing

Due process is a formal way to resolve disputes under IDEA. You start this process by filing a complaint. This is a written document that spells out your dispute with the school. The complaint must state a violation of IDEA. You might argue that the school wrongly denied your child special education. Or you might say the school isn’t providing appropriate services.

Learn about the details of due process, including your rights. You can also take a look at a sample due process complaint letter. Find out what happens at a due process hearing.

Due process is a serious and involved legal process. It’s a good idea to speak with a special education advocate or attorney before you file a complaint.

Option 4: Lawsuit

If you don’t win the due process hearing, you have the option of filing a lawsuit in state or federal court within 90 days. (The school can also file a lawsuit.) This is a very serious legal option and requires a lawyer. You can only file a civil lawsuit after you’ve gone through due process.

Option 5: State complaint

In addition to the options above, you can also file a state complaint about a school’s violation of IDEA. You have to file within one year of the violation. The complaint is a letter to the state department of education asking for an investigation.

Organizations and groups of parents can also file state complaints. For instance, you can get together with other parents and file a state complaint if you see a situation at school that affects more than just your child. Once a complaint is filed, the state may investigate and decide if the school violated IDEA. States have their own rules on how these complaints are handled.

Option 6. Office for Civil Rights complaint

Another federal law — Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act — also protects students with IEPs from discrimination. Section 504 gives you even more options. The most important is a complaint to the (OCR) of the U.S. Department of Education.

An OCR complaint has to be filed within 180 days of the school’s violation. Just like with a state complaint, an OCR complaint may lead to an investigation of the school. Visit OCR’s website to learn more.

Knowing your options for dispute resolution is important to effectively advocate for your child. Get tips on how to negotiate with the school about an IEP. And get an overview of laws that protect your child's rights.

Key takeaways

  • Due process starts with a complaint and results in a decision after a hearing.

  • If you believe the school violated the law, you can file a complaint with the state or federal government.

  • Sometimes, you can resolve a dispute through negotiation at an IEP meeting.


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