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IEP Dispute Resolution

Parents and school staff sometimes disagree about a student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP). There are several options for parents who wish to take the next step in trying to resolve the disagreement.   

Communicating directly with school staff

Direct communication with the student’s teacher or the school principal can be the easiest and fastest way to resolve an issue. Written communication, such as a polite and factual email, can be more useful than phone calls or notes sent back and forth in the student’s backpack. Emails create a clear record of attempts to resolve the issue and information exchanged between parents and school staff.  

If direct communication with the school staff does not resolve the issue, then another option is to contact the school district’s Exceptional Children’s Director. The EC Director’s contact information is listed on the school system’s website.   

View this Tale of Two Conversations to see how good communication can make all the difference when discussing your child’s IEP.

Calling DPI’s dispute resolution consultants

When issues cannot be resolved at the local level, a parent may want to consider calling the Exceptional Children’s Division of the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (DPI). You can reach DPI’s dispute resolution consultants at (984)236-2550. A consultant can provide information about various methods for addressing the issue.  

Informal dispute resolution options through DPI

Facilitation

A parent can ask for a trained facilitator to come to an IEP meeting scheduled specifically to address the disputed issue. The facilitator is a neutral manager of the IEP meeting. He or she will create a mutually agreeable agenda and ensure that all team members have the opportunity to be heard during the meeting. The facilitator also will make sure the meeting focuses on constructive conversation, collaboration, and problem-solving. The structure and guidance the facilitator brings to the meeting often help parents and school staff resolve disputed issues. DPI provides facilitators at no cost to the parent or school. Some school districts also provide facilitators.  

Mediation

Mediation is another option. DPI provides mediators at no cost to the parent and school, and they must be qualified and impartial. Mediators usually engage more in the negotiation process than facilitators and sometimes offer suggestions for resolving disputes. A successful mediation ends with an agreement signed by the participants stating how the dispute has been settled, though parents should not feel obligated to sign an agreement with which they are not comfortable. 

Formal dispute resolutions

Sometimes a parent may want to consider formal options for resolving the dispute.  

Filing a state complaint

One formal option is to file a formal, written complaint—also called a “State Complaint” or a “Formal Complaint”—with DPI’s Exceptional Children’s Division. In the complaint, the parent needs to explain the decision they disagree with and, if possible, how the school violated the student’s special education rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), federal regulations, or state policies. DPI will then investigate the complaint by reviewing the student’s records and talking to the parent and school staff. DPI will issue a written decision within 60 days. More information about the State Complaint process can be found in the Formal Complaint Procedures publication on DPI’s website.   

Due process complaint

Another formal complaint option is to file a Petition for a Contested Case Hearing—also called a “Due Process Complaint”—with the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH). Parents and school staff must meet in person within 15 calendar days of the filing at a  

“Resolution Meeting” to try to resolve the disagreement. If the parent does not have an attorney present at the Resolution Meeting, the school system’s attorney cannot be there either. If the case goes all the way to hearing, an administrative law judge will rule on the case in a written decision.  

OCR complaint

Finally, parents can file a formal complaint with the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) for the U.S. Department of Education. OCR enforces the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which are federal civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination in schools.

Resources  

Information on facilitation, mediation, state complaints and due process petitions from the Exceptional Children’s Division of DPI.

Information on how to file an OCR complaint.

Center for Appropriate Dispute Resolution in Special Education (CADRE) has a wealth of information to help families develop effective communication skills and navigate both formal and informal dispute resolution options.

The Exceptional Children’s Assistance Center (ECAC) may also be able to help you resolve your disagreement. They can be reached 1-800-962-6817

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