Special Education Mediation Services: Working Together for Student Achievement in Michigan
When teachers and parents find they have differing perspectives on what is best for child with a disability, they should know there are multiple ways available to resolve the issues collaboratively. And they are free through Special Education Mediation Services (SEMS), a grant-funded initiative of the Michigan Department of Education Office of Special Education.
Collaborative approaches generally have a better chance of reach solutions appropriate for the student than more traditional, adversarial processes such as investigations and due process hearings. They also have a better chance at preserving that key school-parent relationship.
Schools and parents can invite a trained, neutral facilitator into their IFSP, IEP and other special education meetings. The facilitator will ensure that all participants have a chance to offer their views and suggestions for the student’s developmental or educational program. The facilitator also can keep participants focused on the issues and watch the clock to make sure their time is used efficiently.
If there are specific issues in dispute, schools and parents can seek the aid of a trained, neutral mediator, even when communication is touchy or has broken down. The mediator will guide the participants through a process that focuses on the student’s needs and encourages participants to generate options for meeting those needs. If they find common ground, they sign a written agreement enforceable in state or federal court.
Through SEMS, the MDE/OSE meets its obligation under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to provide mediation as a dispute resolution option, along with formal complaints.
SEMS has a historical mediation agreement rate of 80 percent compared to the national average of 69 percent. It has a mediation turnaround rate of about 30 days compared to 60-75 days for formal complaints. Most agreements are reach in one mediation session, and a session averages less than three hours. Decisions about a student’s services are made by the participants, not the mediator. For these reasons, the MDE/OSE encourages schools and parents to resolve disagreements collaboratively whenever possible.
SEMS provides facilitation and mediation services through the Community Dispute Resolution Program, a network of 18 nonprofit dispute resolution centers that keep services close to school and home.
If you are interested facilitation or mediation contact SEMS at 833-KIDS1ST or www.mikids1st.org. The program’s centralized intake staff will provide you with timely and thorough responses to questions about SEMS services and how its collaborative processes work.