Because we don’t know the details of your particular case, we can’t give you specific advice – but we can give you some general tips to think about as you head into a due process hearing. This is an important area of special education law, as you have a legal right to have your voice heard.
Dispute Resolution Alternatives
Dispute resolution is the process of resolving disagreements. First, consider all alternatives before turning to a hearing. Hearings can be expensive, so try to explore your other options first. Some of the names for these dispute resolution options (such as ‘mediation’) might differ between states, but the general ideas are similar:
- Meet with the school again: If the past IEP meeting didn’t go well or if you have remaining concerns, request another meeting with the school. Share your concerns with the rest of the IEP team and try to work together. If you have a young child, remember that you will have a relationship with this school district (assuming you don’t move) for a long time – typically until your child turns 22 or receives a standard diploma, though some states have different requirements. It can be harder to maintain a productive relationship if you start off in conflict, so try to resolve disagreements by talking things through and encouraging collaboration before considering a due process hearing.
- Request a facilitated IEP meeting: A facilitated IEP meeting is one in which a neutral facilitator attends and runs the meeting. The facilitator’s goal is to improve communication between you and the rest of the IEP team. The facilitator is a neutral party who will not share his or her opinions but rather try to keep discussion productive. These meetings are more popular in some states than others, so it is helpful to talk to other parents or a local attorney to see if facilitated IEPs in your state often lead to successful outcomes or, on the other hand, aren’t very productive.
- Request mediation: Mediation is a slightly different process than a facilitated IEP meeting. Similar to the facilitator, the mediator is an impartial party whose goal is to help parents and school staff clarify underlying issues and concerns, and ultimately try to reach an agreement. This process does not take place during an IEP meeting. Mediation encourages collaboration, and some states require that parties attempt mediation before filing for a due process hearing.
- File a complaint: Most states have a process in place through which you can submit a written complaint. In this letter, you will describe the ways in which you think the school district has violated its legal requirements for providing your child an education. Visit your state’s special education website to learn more about dispute resolution and find the appropriate forms you need.
Resolving Issues through Due Process
If you have tried these steps and haven’t yet resolved the issues you have with the school district, it might be time to start thinking about due process. I strongly recommend consulting with a lawyer, as special education law is complicated and nuanced. You can also look for a special education advocate in your area who can help you go through your child’s educational history to ensure you have identified the issues that are potential legal violations. We also include free Legal Aid offices in our Resource Directory. This is a good option for those who might not be able to afford an attorney or advocate.
Before heading into a hearing, it is important to think about the outcome you want for your child. Are you seeking additional services or compensatory services for where the district fell short? Are you trying to get the school to pay for your child to attend a school outside the district? These are just a couple options; a local attorney can help you figure out what it is you are seeking as a remedy for your concerns.
You will also want to identify potential witnesses you can bring to the hearing to testify on behalf of your child. These might include outside providers who can discuss your child’s current levels of performance and thoughts on potential performance, and elaborate on results from evaluations they conducted. When identifying witnesses, make sure they actually know your child and have spent significant time with your child so they can accurately attest to your child’s skills, strengths, and abilities. It is also important that your witnesses have significant professional experience in their respective fields.
Again, I recommend consulting with an attorney before filing for a due process hearing. Visit our Special Education Guide to learn more about due process and the steps involved before, during, and after the hearing, and to find resources within your community that can provide additional guidance.