Who are Mediators and How Do They Help With IEP Discussions?

Published September 15, 2022

Did your child’s school propose an individualized education plan (IEP) that you disagree with? Have you tried to push back against the changes to your child’s accommodations, but no one is willing to listen? If so, you are not alone. Every year, thousands of parents review and reject the IEPs that their local schools propose. They know what is best for their child and want to contest the school’s plans. 

If your child’s teachers and admins won’t listen to you, it may be time to bring in a mediator. Learn what these professionals do for parents and how you can work with one to negotiate your child’s IEP.

You can bring multiple advocates to IEP meetings

You do not have to attend your IEP meeting alone or with your spouse. You can bring anyone who would qualify as an advocate for your child as long as they aren’t an attorney legally representing you against the school. But some states allow attorneys to attend, so check your IEP protocols as you develop your team.

An advocate is someone who knows your child and understands their needs. An advocate could be a karate instructor who has helped your child practice control techniques in overstimulating environments. They could be a pastor who knows your family or a friend who is like an uncle to your child. These advocates are there to ensure your child gets the care they need while also supporting you. 

If you decide to work with a mediator to dispute your child’s IEP, they will be able to attend the meeting with you. 

Check for a “file for mediation” option on the IEP

During the IEP meeting, you will receive a proposed plan for your child. You can accept or reject this plan during the meeting, or you can take the plan home and review it in more detail. You will schedule a follow-up meeting for a later date either way. 

If you disagree with the IEP, you have a few options. Plans in some districts will have an existing checkbox that says “file for mediation.” When this is selected, the school can invite an objective party to discuss the IEP. If your child already receives accommodations and the school wants to change them, you can reject the IEP. Children with existing IEPs are protected through “stay put” rights, which means they will continue receiving their accommodations until parents and teachers agree to a plan. 

If this is the first time you have requested an IEP from the school and you are not satisfied with it, you can reject it, but you risk losing any accommodations for your child. Another option is to accept the IEP but have your disagreements documented. Some parents believe that something is better than nothing when it comes to accommodation, which is why they agree to an initial IEP and contest it later.  

Decide between a mediator and a facilitator

If you don’t choose the “file for mediation” option, you can choose between an IEP mediator or facilitator to attend your meetings. Most states offer both services to parents trying to secure the best accommodations for their children. 

A mediator is there to resolve existing disputes between two parties. They do not decide the outcome but instead work to help you and the school reach a fair agreement. 

A facilitator is a neutral party who leads the meeting. Their goal is to stick to the top at hand (your child) and work through the IEP methodically. For example, if you have three issues with the IEP, a facilitator will walk the meeting attendees through each one to prevent jumping around to different topics. 

You may want one or both parties to attend your discussions if you aren’t sure you can resolve your IEP dispute peacefully.   

A mediator isn’t a guaranteed solution

While a mediator can help you communicate better with the school, they can’t guarantee that you will resolve your IEP disputes. The school might remain inflexible while you continue to fight for your child. You may need to prepare for the next steps if these meetings don’t lead to an agreement. 

If working with a mediator doesn't help, your next step is to file for a due process hearing citing a violation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Filing for a due process hearing is a complicated, serious venture. At this point, you will need to bring on an attorney. If you do not win the due process hearing, the next step is to file a lawsuit with the state. The school can also file a lawsuit against you. 

Your school can go against your IEP without your consent

While “stay put” rights exist to protect your child from unnecessary changes and from getting shuffled back and forth through different accommodations, there are times when the school can override the IEP.   

Susan Yellin, Esq., a regular columnist at ADDitude Magazine, provided an example. One student’s IEP gave her the right to learn in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE), which was initially a general classroom experience. However, the school decided to override the IEP and place the student in a more restrictive classroom for students with cognitive disabilities. The school made this decision because the student was disrupting the classroom enough to affect the learning of other students. 

Cases like this are why IEP meetings get heated, and mediation can be beneficial. Parents and schools want what is best for the kids, and both parties must agree on the best educational environment. 

Be patient with the IEP process

Countless parents have been frustrated by the IEP experience. Taylor Harris even wrote a book about trying to secure accommodations for her son. This Boy We Made: A Memoir of Motherhood, Genetics, and Facing the Unknown talks about Harris’ journey to get her son diagnosed and secure an IEP through her local school district.

Be patient with the process and know your rights. Stand firm in what you request but also look for additional means of support. Advocates, facilitators, and mediators can make these meetings easier and ensure you have a voice at the table to fight for your child. 

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