The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) encourages parents and schools to work together. A “resolution session” is one way the law tries to get parents and schools to work through their differences.
The session is a mandatory meeting that takes place at the start of due process, the formal process for resolving special education disputes. IDEA requires one more attempt to work things out—the resolution session—before you have a due process hearing. Here what to expect at that resolution session.
The resolution session happens at the start of due process.
The school must hold the resolution session within 15 days of when you ask for due process. The purpose of the session is to give you and the school a chance to discuss your complaint. This meeting also gives both sides an opportunity to negotiate.
This resolution period has a time limit. You and the school have 30 days from when you filed your complaint to reach an agreement.
You and the school must attend the session.
A resolution session is not optional. You must attend. If you don’t go, your due process complaint could be dismissed.
Specific employees of the school must also attend. This includes someone from the school with authority, such as the principal or superintendent. It also includes anyone on your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) team who knows specifics of your child’s case. If the school doesn’t participate in the session, you can go to the next step of due process.
IDEA discourages lawyers at a resolution session. The school can’t bring a lawyer unless you bring one. And if you bring a lawyer and later win your case, you can’t be awarded lawyer’s fees for the session. You may, however, let school officials know you want to bring a friend, family member or even education advocate.
There are two exceptions to the requirement of a resolution session:
- If you and the school both agree in writing that the session isn’t needed, then the session doesn’t have to be held.
- A session doesn’t have to be held if both sides agree to mediation instead. Mediation is when you and the school sit down with a neutral third party to try to reach a legal agreement.
The resolution session is a negotiation.
A resolution session can be a simple meeting in an office at the school. Or it may be a formal presentation in a conference room. Whatever the format, expect that the school may try to negotiate with you and make an offer.
You may want to negotiate as well if you believe there’s a chance for agreement. In a resolution session, there’s no judge or neutral third party to guide the process. It’s just you, anyone you bring and the school.
Unlike mediation, a resolution session isn’t confidential. Unless you have a written confidentiality agreement, anything you or the school reveal may be used later in due process.
For example, if you show the school a new outside evaluation of your child, the school will likely prepare to counter the evaluation later in due process. So it’s important to be cautious about what you say at the meeting, especially if you’ve already talked a lot with the school.
If you and the school reach an agreement, it must be put into writing and signed. You and the school have three business days after the session to cancel the written agreement. Afterward, it becomes legally enforceable in a court of law. Government statistics show that only about 22 percent of resolution sessions end in a written agreement.
If there’s no agreement, a due process hearing is next.
If you and the school reach an agreement through the resolution session (or a mediation), due process is over. If not, then the next step is a due process hearing where you can present your case.
It’s important to understand how a resolution session fits in with due process. It comes after the written complaint, but before the hearing. To learn more, read an overview of due process.