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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

6 Options for Resolving an IEP Dispute

From Understood

By Andrew M.I. Lee
May 25, 2016

At a Glance
  • It’s common for disputes to happen between parents and a school about a child’s services or placement.

  • The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act gives you several ways to resolve the dispute.

  • The options for dispute resolution range from informal negotiations to a formal due process hearing, which is like a courtroom trial.


No matter how good your relationship with a school, there may come a time when you and the school disagree over what’s best for your child. Conflicts can arise over the amount or quality of services the school is providing in your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP).

And sometimes, it may be about your child’s placement.

The good news is that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) gives you several ways to resolve disputes. Here are six options for resolving an IEP dispute.

1.) Informal Negotiation: Talking With the School During IEP Meetings

You’re part of the IEP team. In fact, you can call an IEP team meeting at any time. This brings together you, your child’s general and special education teachers and the school to discuss your child’s education.

Just calling this meeting is powerful way to jump-start a solution. Perhaps your child’s IEP requires an hour of speech therapy a week. But you find out that the school has skipped several weeks of therapy. You can call an IEP team meeting immediately to discuss how to fix this problem.

2.) Mediation: A Voluntary Process With Third-Party Help

If the IEP process isn’t working, you can ask for mediation. This is a free, confidential and voluntary process where you sit down with the school and a neutral third party, called a mediator, to work out a solution.

The mediator doesn’t take sides or tell you what to do. Instead, the mediator tries to help you reach a solution with the school that works for everyone. You can ask for mediation at any time. The decisions are legally binding.

3.) Due Process Hearing: Starts With Formal Complaint, Ends With Decision

Due process is a formal way of resolving disputes under IDEA. You start this process by filing a due process complaint. This is a written document that spells out your dispute with the school. The complaint must state a violation of IDEA. It might be in reference to your child’s eligibility for special education services, or it could be in reference to the types and quality of services received.

Learn about the details of due process, including your rights. You can also take a look at a sample due process complaint letter. Find out what happens at a due process hearing. Due process is a serious and involved legal process.

It’s a good idea to speak with a special education lawyer before you file a complaint.

4.) Civil Lawsuit: Going to Court After Due Process

If you don’t win the due process hearing, you have the option of filing a lawsuit in state or federal court within 90 days. (The school can also file a lawsuit.) This is one the most extreme legal options and requires a lawyer. You can only file a civil lawsuit after you’ve gone through due process.

5.) State Complaint: Asking the State to Step In
In addition to the options above, you can also file a state complaint about a school’s violation of IDEA within one year. This is basically a letter to the state department of education asking for an investigation.

Organizations and groups of parents can file state complaints. For instance, you can get together with other parents and file a state complaint if you see a school issue that affects more than just your child.

Once a complaint is filed, the state may investigate and decide if the school violated IDEA. States have their own rules on how these complaints are handled.

6.) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) Complaint: Going to the Feds

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act protects students with IEPs from discrimination. Section 504 gives you even more options. The most important is a complaint to the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) of the U.S. Department of Education.

An OCR complaint has to be filed within 180 days of the school’s violation. Just like with a state complaint, an OCR complaint may lead to an investigation of the school. Visit OCR’s website to learn more.

Knowing your options for dispute resolution is important to effectively advocate for your child. You may want to get tips on informal IEP negotiation. And take a look at a graphic that outlines your options.

Key Takeaways

  • Due process starts with a formal complaint and results in a decision from an impartial hearing officer on a dispute with the school.

  • You also can file a complaint with state or federal education authorities for violations of IDEA in your school.

  • Sometimes you can get your concerns addressed just through informal negotiations at IEP meetings.

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Andrew M.I. Lee, J.D. is an editor and former attorney who strives to help people understand complex legal, education and parenting issues. More by this author

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