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Dispute resolution

At a Glance: Options for Dispute Resolution

By Andrew M.I. Lee

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If you disagree with how the school is handling your child’s special education, you have options. Here are six common ways to resolve disputes—along with the pros and cons.

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Comparing Your Dispute Resolution Options

Know your rights when you have a dispute with a school about your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP). Here’s a comparison of options.

Informal Negotiation
Talking with the school during IEP meetings to find a solution.
Lawyer: No
Cost: Free
Time Limit: You can ask for an IEP meeting at any time.
Outcome: Most school-parent disputes are resolved this way.

Mediation
A confidential, voluntary meeting where a neutral third party helps you and the school reach agreement.
Lawyer: No
Cost: Free
Time Limit: You can ask for mediation at any time.
Outcome: 89% of mediations result in agreement.

In the 2011–12 school year, there were fewer than 50 mediation requests and due process or state complaints per 10,000 special education students.

Due Process
A formal process to resolve disputes about special education.
Lawyer: Highly recommended
Cost: Could cost thousands of dollars if an attorney is hired; some advocates provide services for free or at low cost
Time Limit: Must file a complaint within two years.
Outcome: Schools win 59% of due process hearings


Civil Lawsuit
A lawsuit filed in federal court after you rst go through a due process hearing.
Lawyer: Yes
Cost: Thousands of dollars in legal fees
Time Limit: Parents must sue within 90 days after the due process hearing decision.
Outcome: No reliable data.

State Complaint
A letter to the state education agency about the suspected violation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
Lawyer: No
Cost: Free
Time Limit: Within a year of the suspected violation.
Outcome: 46% of complaints result in some finding of a violation.

Office for Civil Rights Complaint
A complaint to federal education authorities for disability discrimination under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.
Lawyer: No
Cost: Free
Time Limit: Within 180 days of the suspected violation.
Outcome: No reliable data.
Graphic of At a Glance: Comparing Your Dispute Resolution Options
Graphic of At a Glance: Comparing Your Dispute Resolution Options

About the Author

Portrait of Andrew Lee

Andrew M.I. Lee is an editor and former attorney who strives to help people understand complex legal, education and parenting issues.

Reviewed by

Portrait of Myrna Mandlawitz

Myrna Mandlawitz, M.Ed., J.D., has worked for over 20 years as a consultant/lobbyist on special and general education.

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