Requesting Mediation in Texas
Mediation (Noun): Intervention to settle a disagreement; the intervention by a third party between two sides in a dispute in an attempt to help them reach an agreement (Encarta Dictionary)
Mediation is one of several options available when parents and school districts don’t agree. Sometimes conflicts just need a third party to help both sides reach an agreement. Mediation is free to parents or school districts through TEA. It is a more informal, voluntary process and gives parents and professionals the change to work things out together.
What Do I Need to Know About Mediation?
- Mediation is voluntary, meaning you can choose to go to mediation if you feel you are not getting a solution to the situation and that intervention by a neutral third party would be beneficial. The school can also choose whether or not to participate in mediation.
- Mediation cannot be used to delay your right to a due process hearing or to deny any other rights you are given under The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004.
- Mediation is free to both parties. The costs are paid by the state education agency (TEA).
- Mediation may take more than one meeting. Meetings are scheduled in a timely manner and will be held in a location that works for both parties.
- Discussions that take place during the mediation process are confidential. They cannot be used as evidence in any due process or civil cases later.
- Mediation is not the same as going to litigation (lawsuit or legal action). It is a less formal process than litigation.
- If/when a decision is agreed upon during mediation, the agreement becomes legally binding and enforceable by a civil court.
- The goal of mediation is to resolve an issue while protecting the parent-school relationship.
So Who’s the Mediator?
Mediators are people with professional experience in any number of fields, including education, law, government and human service. These people are trained in mediation techniques and they know special education. They are a neutral, unbiased party to the dispute; they do not act as an advocate or legal advisor to either side (school district or parent). Think of a Mediator as a referee. The Ref calls the plays as he sees them, according to the rules of the game and the evidence he can see. The Mediator’s job is to create a safe place for both sides to work things out. They help both sides to use open communication. They point out things both sides agree on and explain options. Their goal is to help both sides come to an agreement each can live with and is based upon student need. You can get a list of qualified mediators from the TEA.
How Do I Get To Mediation?
You, the parent can ask for mediation. So can an adult student or school staff person. Just like filing a complaint, your request for mediation must be in writing and signed. Include the name of the school district or charter school, the student’s name/grade, your contact information, and a short description of your concerns in your request. Mail or fax it to:
Texas Education Agency
Division of Legal Services
1701 North Congress Avenue
Austin, TX 78701-1494
Telephone: 512.463.9720 | Fax: 512.463.6027
How do I Get Ready for Mediation?
- List the things that you want to discuss. Be specific.
- Let the mediator know who you want to invite to the mediation session. Invite people who can contribute to the process and support your interests.
- List several solutions that you feel may resolve the issues. Keep your ideas focused on the student's needs (not your own). Be specific.
- Be open to new ideas. You may have to let go of past hurts or struggles so that you can focus on the matter at hand.
- Clear your schedule and obtain childcare, as needed. Since the length of the mediation is unknown, you’ll be expected to be there without interruption for the entire time of the mediation.
- Documents are not necessary. If you plan to bring them, organize them so you can use what you need quickly and easily.
- Ask the mediator what to expect in the mediation session. Every mediator is different. There are rules to be followed, but each mediator has a personal style or way they run the meeting.
- You don’t have to have an attorney represent you in Mediation. Most parents don’t. If you bring legal services (a lawyer), you are responsible for the cost of the services.
And Then What Happens?
When mediation is successful, the two parties (parent and school district) have come to some agreement about how the issue will be resolved. Mediation often results in some form of a compromise between the two. A legally binding settlement agreement will go into effect. Discussions and evidence used in the mediation process are confidential and cannot be used in any future legal or civil litigation. In the best of circumstances, everyone wins, particularly your child. After you have participated in mediation, you will be asked to participate in a survey about your mediation experience. You can complete this survey on line.
After mediation, it is important to have an ARD meeting to ensure that any special education or related services agreed upon in mediation are added into the IEP. Then in addition to the mediation agreement, which is only enforceable in a civil court, you will have the procedural safeguards available for your child’s IEP if the school does not implement the decisions made in mediation.
There are many useful resources available from TEA – Mediation Program (list of mediators, mediation request form, frequently asked questions, etc.)
The Mediation Process is also outlined in the Procedural Safeguards document that parents receive at ARD meetings.
For more information concerning the mediation process, e-mail Lorie Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Another helpful resource is available to you from Consortium for Appropriate Dispute Resolution in Special Education (CADRE): http://www.directionservice.org/cadre/.
CADRE is a project funded by the United Sates Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs. CADRE supports parents, educators and administrators to benefit from the full continuum of dispute resolution options that can prevent and resolve conflict and ultimately lead to informed partnerships that focus on results for children and youth. CADRE is provided as a resource for additional information about Special Education Mediation. Available on the CADRE website is a booklet written for parents and family members that provides an overview of the mediation process and how it works. Included is information on the benefits of mediation and how to prepare for mediation. You can access the resource at: Special Education Mediation: A Guide for Parents.
The Dept. of Ed. has also compiled a document regarding IDEA 2004 provisions regarding procedural safeguards related to Mediation and Resolution Sessions