Mediation is a process in which a neutral third party assists people in resolving their disputes. Mediation is facilitated negotiation. Mediation encourages mutual respect, promotes communication, and contributes to a more positive working relationship in the future.
Mediation is an option for early conflict resolution required by state and federal law to be available for parents of children with disabilities and schools.A neutral, trained professional (a mediator) helps parents and school districts resolve their disputes in an informal meeting. Mediation is voluntary. Either the parent(s), school district or the mediator may end the mediation at any time. The mediator does not make a decision for the parties, unlike a judge or a due process hearing officer. The mediator helps the parties do the following:
Create solutions agreeable to all
When parties resolve all or some of the issues, then they work together to write an agreement. They both sign the agreement. Parties may ask an attorney to review the agreement before signing. If the parties are not comfortable with the agreement, they should not sign it. The signed agreement is a contract and is legally binding. Mediation does not delay or deny the right to a due process hearing.
Most states have a Special Education Mediation System Intake Coordinator/ Administrator tol help you with the process. Mediation can be requested in Pennsylvania when you reject a NOREP (Notice of Recommended Educational Placement) or the IEP or on the Due Process Complain Form available through the Office of Dispute Resolution (ODR). ODR is a neutral agency that is not a part of the Pennsylvania Department of Education, any school district, or any parents' advocacy organization. You can contact ODR through the Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network (PATTAN) in Harrisburg at:
Office for Dispute Resolution 6340 Flank Drive Harrisburg, PA 17112
Either parents or school administrators (or both together) may request mediation by mail or fax. If only one party requests mediation, the ODR Administrator will contact the other party to ask for consent to the mediation, talk about the benefits of mediation, and explain how the process works. This is a voluntary process. If either the parents or school say no, a mediation session will not go forward.
The Request for Mediation form is the form that can be used to request mediation. You may obtain the form: By calling ODR. You may download the form by going to PATTAN.net and clicking on the Request for Mediation form
The form is simple to complete. The person(s) requesting mediation briefly describes the dispute.
A Request for Mediation form is completed:
Together: After discussing the issues, the parents (or guardian or adult student) and the school representatives may decide they need a neutral person to help them to resolve the issues. This is called a joint request.
OR: Individually: A parent, adult student, or school representative may request mediation.
If you request mediation, the ODR Intake Coordinator/Administrator, will interview you by telephone. They will ask you for information that is included on the ODR Intake Information form. If you do not have the information, they will help you to locate it.
ODR notifies the other person you have identified on the request form. The intake coordinator explains the mediation process and finds out if the non-requester would like to try mediation. The non-requester is not required by law to participate in mediation. The mediation process is voluntary. The non-requester has five business days to decide whether or not to participate.
Mediation is a free process for both parents and schools if they use the services of a mediator on the ODR list. ODR pays the mediators. However, participants in the system must pay for their own attorney's fees, if any.
ODR has a list of experienced mediators who are located statewide. The mediators come from a variety of professions, including law, social work, psychology, and education. None of the mediators are currently employed by a school district or PDE or affiliated with a parent advocacy group. They are skilled in mediation with a working knowledge about the special education process. All of the mediators have completed a training on special education law and policy and the mediation process. Each year the mediators receive additional training.
Both parties to the dispute must agree on who will serve as a mediator. You may request a mediator from the ODR list or the system will assign one for you. If a mediator is chosen from this list, the mediator's services are provided without charge to the participants. If the participants choose to use a mediator who is not on the ODR list, the participants are responsible for the mediator's fees.
The first mediation session is held within 21 business days after the mediator is agreed upon by the participants, unless both parties agree to a longer timeframe. The mediator works with the participants to find a convenient location, date, and time upon which all participants can agree. Mediations may be held in libraries, community centers, the school, school district offices, attorneys' offices, or other locations agreeable to the participants. ODR does not limit the length of the session or how many times the parties can meet. The parties work with the mediator to set the length of the first session.
A mediation session looks like a meeting with the participants sitting around a table. There is no written, audio, or video recording of the session. The atmosphere is informal and conversational. The mediator explains the Agreement to Mediate and asks the parties to sign it. The mediator explains the mediation process and the mediator's role. The mediator asks each participant to explain why they are in the mediation and what they would like to see happen in mediation. The mediator may ask questions to clarify, brainstorm, or create options. Anyone may ask the mediator for a break at any time, or the mediator may decide to call for a break. Any participant, or the mediator,may ask for a private meeting (a caucus) with the mediator or with certain participants. The parents and school district representatives work together to write down how they have decided to resolve their dispute. They both sign this written statement, which is called the mediation agreement. A participant may, at his or her own cost, have a lawyer review the agreement.
No. About two-thirds of the cases that go through the mediation process do not have lawyers involved in them. Of those cases, most settle the issues in dispute. If you choose to be represented by a lawyer in the mediation process, you are responsible for the lawyer's fees.
The parents (or adult student) and two representatives of the school district may participate. The mediator helps the participants decide who else may be present at the session. If all the participants agree, others may also participate. For example, some people like to have an advocate, teacher, or relative attend the session. In addition, any party may request a break during the session to speak with someone by telephone or consult with someone who is in another room (but not present at the session).
Mediation is a process that is effective when there is:
An ongoing relationship between family and school representatives
A need for privacy
A need for creative and flexible solutions
A desire to retain control over the outcome rather than having a third party make the decision
Under special education law, mediation may be used for disputes involving:
Individualized Education Program (IEP)
Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)
Mediation is most effective when used early in a dispute.
Mediation has many benefits for parents, educators and service providers, including:
Families can maintain an ongoing and positive relationship with the school system and benefit from partnering with educators or service providers in developing their child's program.
Conflicts that arise out of misunderstandings or lack of shared information can be resolved through mediators helping parents, educators, and service providers to communicate directly with one another.
Special education issues are complex and can best be solved by working together.
Mediation tends to be faster and less costly than adversarial approaches, such as due process hearings and court proceedings.
Mediation results in agreements that participants find satisfactory because they create the document, and research shows that people tend to follow the terms of their mediated agreements.
Parties retain control over the process and don’t give control of the outcome to a third party such as a judge or a due process hearing officer.