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Dispute Resolution

Special Education Dispute Resolution

The student's parent(s) and school personnel work together to make decisions about the student's education, and this working relationship is generally a good one. However, there may be times when the parent(s) and school personnel do not agree about something. Often the disagreement can be resolved by a meeting between the parent(s) and a school representative or by having another case conference committee (CCC) meeting. By working together to reach an agreement, the parent(s) and school personnel are able to continue a positive relationship and can often find a solution to the disagreement in less time than using a more formal process, such as a due process hearing. Read through the information below to gain an understanding of your options in the dispute resolution process.

Tips for Parents When a Disagreement Arises

There are a number of resources and options available to parents and schools attempting to resolve a disagreement or conflict regarding a student’s education. Understanding a student’s special education needs, as well as special education procedures, are the first steps in resolving disagreements or avoiding disputes in the first place. Parents should ensure that they are familiar with the special education needs of their student by doing the following:

  • Review your student’s individualized education program (IEP). Make sure you are familiar with what it requires and that you are able to explain your specific questions and concerns.
  • Review your student’s latest evaluation to be sure you understand your student’s disability and how that impacts your student’s learning.
  • Refer to Indiana’s rules for special education, commonly known as Article 7. The Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) has also developed Navigating the Course, a guide to Article 7 that explains the rules in everyday language. These documents and more can be found in English and Spanish on the Laws and Resources page.
  • Consider contacting a parent resource or advocacy organization. Contact information for these organizations can be found below in the “Helpful Links and Resources” section.
  • Consider contacting a staff member of the IDOE’s Office of Special Education (OSE) with general inquiries by emailing or calling (317) 232-0570.

Informal Dispute Resolution

Many special education disagreements or conflicts can be resolved through one or more of the following informal options. These options allow those who know the student best, including parents and school representatives, to work together to develop a solution.

An informal meeting provides an opportunity for parents to directly address their concerns with school representatives. School representatives may include a teacher, principal, dean, the director of special education or others. For contact information for the director of special education of your school corporation, click here. A face-to-face conversation will ensure that the school is aware of parental concerns and allow both parties to discuss potential solutions. This may help alleviate misunderstandings or help the school understand the parent’s concerns. If changes to the IEP are needed, the CCC may reconvene, or the parent and school may agree, in writing, to amend the IEP without convening the CCC meeting.

A parent may also make a request to reconvene the CCC meeting. At the CCC meeting, parties will be able to have a productive conversation regarding a student’s eligibility for special education and related services, IEP revisions, student progress, appropriate special education and related services, and any other matter related to the provision of a free appropriate public education (FAPE).

facilitated IEP (FIEP) meeting may also be effective if the disagreement is related specifically to developing or revising the IEP. With a FIEP, a trained, impartial professional facilitator attends a CCC meeting and supports the development of an IEP. The facilitator does not make any decisions regarding the student’s IEP, but helps parties resolve their conflicts related to creating the IEP, stay focused, and develop an IEP that best meets the student’s needs. This services is provided at no cost to the parents or schools.

Formal Dispute Resolution

Sometimes, the parent(s) and school personnel are not able to resolve their disagreement through the methods above. With that in mind, IDOE offers three options for formal dispute resolution: complaints, mediations, and due process hearings. As the name suggests, formal dispute resolution options are more complex and official than the informal options listed above and may take more time. The quickest formal dispute resolution process may be resolved in a few weeks, while hearings may last from several months to over a year.

A complaint is a claim that the public agency has not implemented federal or state special education rules; or has failed to comply with an order issued by an independent hearing officer (IHO). A complaint may also be used to enforce a mediation agreement or an agreement reached during a resolution meeting as part of a due process hearing. When IDOE receives a complaint, a complaint investigator is assigned to determine if a violation has occurred and order corrective action if necessary.

Mediation is a voluntary process in which parent(s) and school representatives meet with a trained mediator who facilitates the development of a written agreement between the parties. The mediator does not make any decisions, and there is no guarantee that the parties will come to an agreement. Mediation may be used to resolve: a complaint; a disagreement from a CCC meeting regarding the student’s identification or eligibility for services; the appropriateness of the educational evaluation, level of services, or placement; or anything else affecting the provision of a FAPE.

A due process hearing is an administrative law proceeding held before an impartial IHO. The parent(s) and the school have the opportunity to present witnesses and other evidence. At the conclusion of the hearing, the IHO considers all of the information and issues a written decision. A due process hearing can be requested by the student’s parent(s), a student of legal age, or the school. Due process hearings can resolve disagreements involving a number of topics, including: the student’s identification or eligibility as a student with a disability; the appropriateness of the educational evaluation, level of services, or placement; anything else related to the provision of FAPE; reimbursement for services obtained by the parent(s); or student discipline concerns, such as manifestation determinations or disciplinary changes of placement.

For a quick overview of special education dispute resolution processes, click here. For parent guides to dispute resolution options, click here. While these guides describe the various dispute resolution processes under federal law, specifics on Indiana’s formal dispute resolution processes are featured below.

For more information on each dispute resolution process, please visit the following:

Helpful Links and Resources

Indiana Resource Center for Families with Special Needs (IN*Source) - (800) 332-4433
IN*Source connects families and partners with professionals to help students with special needs realize their potential. IN*Source's services include a statewide network of parent support, information, resources for parents and schools through the IN*Source website, and online and in-person training. All services are provided free of charge.

Indiana Disability Rights (IDR) - (317) 722-5555
IDR is the Protection and Advocacy (P&A) System for Indiana. Their mission is to protect and promote the rights of individuals with disabilities through empowerment and advocacy. IDR may provide information and referrals, investigate abuse and neglect, monitor service providers, and provide legally based advocacy services in the areas of community, integration, education, employment, housing, and voting rights.

About Special Kids (ASK) - (800) 964-4746
ASK is an Indiana-based organization that works to support the families of children with special needs by answering questions and providing information and resources. ASK is a “Parent to Parent” organization, meaning that it is made up of parents and family members of children with special needs. Their services include parent liaisons, a resource directory, and trainings on various subjects related to special education.

Disability Legal Services of Indiana, Inc. (DLSI) – (317) 426-7733
DLSI is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to providing free and low cost legal services to Indiana’s children and adults with disabilities, primarily in education matters. DLSI attorneys assist families in special education matters, including attendance at CCC meetings, special education complaints, mediations, and due process hearings.

The Arc of Indiana - (317) 977-2375 (800) 382-9100
The Arc of Indiana is committed to all people with intellectual and developmental disabilities realizing their goals of living, learning, working and fully participating in the community. The Arc Advocacy Network’s family advocates provide information, referral and advocacy to assist and guide individuals with disabilities and their families with a wide range of issues, including applying for and navigating government programs.

Joseph Maley Foundation - Family Support Manager
The Foundation encompasses five programs (disABILITY Awareness, HOPE, Friends, Fitness, and Family Support) that service the whole child and those who directly affect the child. The Family Support program serves families and children in multiple ways, in collaboration with educators, schools, community organizations and attorneys.

The Center for Appropriate Dispute Resolution in Special Education (CADRE) - (541) 359-4210

CADRE’s major emphasis is on encouraging the use of mediation, facilitation, and other collaborative processes as strategies for resolving disagreements between parents and schools about children’s educational programs and support services. CADRE supports parents, educators, administrators, attorneys and advocates 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.

A single source, a world of possibilities. Developed in 2018 through an initiative funded by AWS Foundation, FINDER gives people living with disabilities 24/7 access to a comprehensive range of community resources designed to improve their quality of life.