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 Letter from Jim and Mary of North Carolina about Mediation:

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Dear Pete and Pam:

I hope you can help us. Our 8 year old daughter who is going into third grade is severely-profoundly hearing impaired, oral, and mainstreamed.

Although she is passing, we are very concerned about third grade . We have been doing so much work at home with her. My husband and I requested that she have an itinerant teacher next year. The school denied our request. They said that she will have to flounder before they will provide her with any help. If we stopped working with her, she would flounder but we're not willing to do this.

We are going to mediation about this issue.

We contacted an attorney. The attorney suggested that we go to mediation alone, or rather that it wasn't necessary to bring an attorney with us. The school is sending an attorney to the 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 with us.

What else can we do or bring with us to the mediation meeting? Any words of wisdom?


Jim and Mary

Dear Jim and Mary -

You had several questions -

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. Pete and I are both trained as mediators. We just uploaded a short article about mediation onto the website.


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 hearing, the school staff will not remember things as you do. They often tell hearing officers that the parents didnít tell them that they were unhappy with the services the child was receiving. Even if you deny this, itís still one personís word against another.

There are a couple of easy ways to develop a paper trail, in case you need it to support your position. First, keep a log of contacts between you and the school. Second, write polite businesslike letters to the school whenever there is a meeting or decisions are made.

For example, after an IEP meeting, you would write a polite "thank you" letter. You would thank the IEP team for meeting with you. You would include your understanding about what the school is going 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 didnít 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 werenít 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 later, these letters show that the problems are longstanding and that you have been trying to work cooperatively with the school.

<<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!

<<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 have support for this from your experts.

<<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 from the Harvard Negotiation Project. 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 that you resolve your current problem. You need to remember that 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.

Pete and Pam

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