Family Network on Disabilities

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Informal Approaches to Resolving Disputes

Informal Approaches to Resolving Disputes

In all cases where the family and school disagree, it is important for both sides to first discuss their concerns and try to compromise. There are several, relatively informal ways in which parents and school staff might attempt to work out disagreements regarding a child’s special education program. Two of these are to:

This resource page will tell you a bit more about each of these approaches.


Have you heard of the “Spartan way” of resolving disputes?

The Greek biographer and philosopher Plutarch once told the story of two men who wanted to avoid the rigors of a trial, but who made the mistake of submitting their dispute to the Spartan king, Archidamus II (469-427 BC), for arbitration.

The king took the disputants to the temple of Athene of the Brazen House and asked them to swear to abide by his award. They agreed.

Then the arbitrator said: “You both stay here till you have made up your quarrel.


IEP Review

Under IDEA, the school system is responsible for determining when it is necessary to conduct an IEP meeting, and the child’s IEP team is responsible for reviewing the child’s IEP periodically, but not less than annually, and revising the child’s IEP, if appropriate. In addition, the parents of a child with a disability have the right to request an IEP meeting at any time.

What kinds of disputes might be resolved through an IEP review meeting?
After the annual IEP review has taken place, if a parent has concerns about his or her child’s rate of progress, the appropriateness of the services provided to the child, or the child’s educational placement, it would be appropriate for the parents to request that the IEP team reconvene. At that meeting, the parent and public agency can discuss the parent’s concerns and, hopefully, as collaborative members of the IEP team, work toward a solution that is agreeable to all.

The solution doesn’t have to be permanent. It’s not uncommon for IEP teams to agree on a temporary compromise—for example, to try out a particular plan of instruction or classroom placement for a certain period of time that the child’s IEP is in effect. During (or at the end of) that period, the school can check the child’s progress. Team members can then meet again and discuss how the child is doing, how well the temporary compromise addressed the original concern, and what to do next. The trial period may help parents and the school come to a comfortable agreement on how to help the child.

Does the entire team have to be there?
Not necessarily. A new provision in the 2004 Amendments to IDEA allows changes to be made to the child’s IEP, following the annual IEP team review, without convening the full IEP team [§300.324(a)(4)]. Simply stated, the parent and the public agency may agree not to convene an IEP team meeting for the purpose of making changes to the child’s IEP. We bring this up because, in some cases, the parties may be able to resolve a disagreement by conducting a review of the child’s IEP and amending it as appropriate, without convening the entire IEP team. For more information on the conditions that apply to using this option, please visit Meeting Without Meeting.

What are the benefits of resolving a dispute through an IEP review?
Because parents and the public agency are partners in ensuring the child is provided an appropriate education, and sometimes will be working together for many years—in some cases, the child’s entire school career—it is in everyone’s best interest, especially the child’s, that the IEP team members communicate with one another, respectfully and honestly.

Facilitated IEP Meeting

Another informal approach to resolving disputes between parents and schools is IEP facilitation.

IEP facilitation is not mentioned in IDEA and is not one of the dispute resolution options described in the law’s procedural safeguards. However, it is being used to help IEP teams reach agreements in special education decision-making. There are probably others as well, but IEP facilitation is an approach on the rise.

Some SEAs provide parents and school districts with the option of facilitated IEP meetings. When relationships between parents and schools are strained, facilitated meetings may be beneficial. It’s important to remember, though, that this approach is not required or addressed under IDEA and may not be available in your school district.

What is a facilitated IEP team meeting?
A facilitated IEP team meeting is one that includes an impartial facilitator. The facilitator is not a member of the IEP team but, rather, is there to keep the IEP team focused on developing the child’s program while addressing conflicts as they arise.

The facilitator can help promote communication among IEP team members and work toward resolving differences of opinion that may occur concerning the provision of a free appropriate public education to a child. The facilitator helps keep the IEP team on task so that the meeting purposes can be accomplished within the time allotted for the meeting.

What are the benefits of having a facilitator for an IEP team meeting?
The IEP facilitator can help support the full participation of all parties. The facilitator does not impose a decision on the group; the facilitator clarifies points of agreement and disagreement and can model effective communication and listening for the IEP team members. When disagreements arise, the facilitator can help encourage the members to identify new options. Most importantly, the impartial facilitator ensures that the meeting remains focused on the child.

Do all school districts have to offer facilitated IEP team meetings?
No. IDEA does not address IEP facilitation. This means that there is no requirement in IDEA for school systems to provide an impartial facilitator for IEP team meetings. While the use of IEP facilitation has become more popular, facilitators may not be available in all school districts and are not required.

Where can I get more information on IEP facilitation?
For more information about IEP facilitation, visit the website of CADRE, the Consortium for Appropriate Dispute Resolution in Special Education, at: