Our daughter is hearing impaired, oral, and mainstreamed. Although she is passing, we are concerned about next year. We do so much work with her at home. We asked that she have an itinerant teacher next year. The school denied our request. They said she has to "flounder" before they will provide any help. If we stop working with her, she will flounder. We are not willing to put her through this.
We are going to mediation about this issue.
We contacted an attorney who suggested that we go to mediation alone - that it isn't necessary to bring an attorney with us. The school is sending an attorney to mediation. Is it wise for us to go without one?
We have letters from professionals, audiologists, psychiatrists, backing our case but we don't have an attorney to accompany us. What else can we do or bring with us to the mediation meeting? Any words of wisdom?
IDEA 97 encourages parents and schools to use mediation to resolve their disputes. When done properly, mediation can be an excellent way to resolve conflict. We are both trained as mediators.
When you have a dispute with the school, you need to have independent information about these problems (independent of what you remember). If you need to have a due process hearing, school staff will not remember things as you do. They often tell hearing officers that the parents didn’t tell them that they were unhappy with the services the child was receiving. Even if you deny this, it is still one person’s word against another.
There are a couple of easy ways to develop a paper trail in case you need it to support your position.
Keep a log of contacts between you and the school. Write polite businesslike letters to the school after any meeting where decisions are made. (if you have our book, From Emotions to Advocacy, read the chapters about Paper Trails, Writing Letters, and Preparing for Meetings)
For example, after an IEP meeting, write a polite letter thanking the IEP team for the meeting. Include your understanding about what the school agreed to provide, like this:
"My understanding of the services that my daughter will receive is XX, YY, ZZ
"I shared the new evaluation from Dr. Jones. The IEP team said they didn’t have to incorporate any of Dr. Jones' recommendations."
"When we asked for more help, Ms. Smith said that our daughter would have to flounder before the school would provide any help. We told her that we disagreed with this. We told her that our daugher would be floundering now if we weren’t helping her so much at home."
"We advised the IEP team that we were spending two or three hours a night in tutoring - and she was only in second grade."
If problems crop up, your letters show that the problems are longstanding and that you have been trying to work cooperatively with the school.
You asked, "We contacted an attorney who suggested that we go to this meeting alone or rather that it wasn't necessary yet to bring an attorney with us - the school is sending an attorney to the arbitration though. Do you think it is wise for us to go without one?"
For mediation to work, neither side should bring an attorney!
Properly done, mediation helps people communicate. Mediation helps both sides discuss the situation openly and honestly, with the objective of helping the parties come up with a fair acceptable solution to their problem.
Mediation should be confidential. If lawyers are present, there are more chances for things to get polarized.
Perhaps the mediator can ask the school board lawyer to stay in the waiting room!
Evaluations and Letters
You asked, "We have letters from professionals, audiologists, psychiatrists, backing our case but we don't have an attorney going with us."
Yes, definitely bring your evaluations. Make a short list of what you want for your daughter and use your experts' statements to support your requests.
How Can You Prepare?
You asked, "Anything else we should do or bring with us to our meeting?"
What should you do to prepare for mediation? Go to your local library or bookstore and pick up a copy of Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher. Getting to Yes is based on research about how to resolve conflict. Getting to Yes will help you understand the mediation/negotiation process and how you can participate effectively. It's a great book - and it's a small book - probably no more than 100 pages long.
Another thing - assume you resolve your current problem. History repeats itself. If you begin to build your paper trail now and have more problems later, your letters will be good evidence of your dealings with various people at the school.
Let us know how things turn out.