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What You Need to Know About Mediation
An Educational Session with Pete and Pam Wright

Parents complain about the high cost of resolving special education disputes. School districts complain about skyrocketing legal fees.

IDEA 97 Includes a NEW Provision That Encourages Parents and School Districts to Use Mediation to Resolve Disputes.

(1) In general. Any State educational agency or local educational agency that receives assistance under this part shall ensure that procedures are established and implemented to allow parties to disputes involving any matter described in subsection (b)(6) to resolve such disputes through a mediation process which, at a minimum, shall be available whenever a hearing is requested under subsection (f)or(k).

(2) Requirements. Such procedures shall meet the following requirements:

(A) The procedures shall ensure that the mediation process--

(i) is voluntary on the part of the parties;

(ii) is not used to deny or delay a parentís right to a due process hearing under subsection (f), or to deny any other rights afforded under this part; and

(iii) is conducted by a qualified and impartial mediator who is trained in effective mediation techniques.

To learn more about Procedural Safeguards in IDEA 97, go to

Pete: I am a trained mediator and have mediated dozens of divorce and child custody cases. I support mediation - if the mediator is and remains neutral through the process. Pam has also received mediation training.

Mediators help people resolve disputes without litigation. Mediators do not have to be knowledgeable about special education law and practice. Mediators do need to be properly trained and supervised. Mediators are not arbitrators. (An arbitrator must issue a ruling in favor of one party or the other.)

Pam: In many states, divorcing couples are encouraged to use mediation. Mediators facilitate communication between people in conflict. When there is conflict, emotions run high. The mediatorís job is to help the parties express their views and positions clearly - and to help the parties understand the other side. You believe you are right. They believe they are right. This is the basis of conflict.

To resolve conflict, your single most valuable tool is to put yourself in the shoes of the other side. How do they see the problem? What is their perception of the problem? What are their beliefs? What are their fears? What do they want? What are they afraid will happen if they give you what you want? Mediation helps people address these issues.

Pete: Sometimes, mediators think that their job is to force a settlement - even if this means the mediator takes sides. If mediators are not properly trained and supervised, their own personal and professional biases and opinions will influence the mediation process. When this happens, trust is destroyed on both sides. Good mediators don't take sides.

Mediation is a two-way street. Both sides must be willing to walk down the road together and discuss their differences honestly - without lawyers being present. Your goals is to resolve your dispute. Your goal isn't to destroy each other.

* * Parent Tip * *

Read the book Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In by Roger Fisher and William Ury (Penguin Books). If you can find the first edition at a used bookstore, pick it up (it's shorter and just as good). Getting to Yes is based on research from the Harvard Negotiation Project about how to resolve conflict. This book is packed with good ideas and advice.

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