Side of Special Education: Special Education Mediation
By Aimee Gilman, Esq.
is an alternative dispute resolution process designed to foster settlements between
disputing parties and hopefully avoid the need for expensive litigation. The mediation
process can be stressful for parents unfamiliar with it unless they know the rules.
So here is a handy guide to the rules of special education mediation.
Rules of Mediation
mediations must always occur at the district board of education office so that
parents and their advocates are the only ones inconvenienced (and intimidated)
by the location. Initially, the parties convene in one room, then separate into
two rooms because by the time mediation is necessary, they can no longer stand
the sight of each other.
A box of doughnuts will appear which will be
offered to district staff and the mediator only. Parents and their advocates are
left to fish around in their purses for a leftover Certs purchased during the
Reagan Administration. But parents need to keep a keen eye on those doughnuts.
The mediator will munch on them during the course of the day. Parents should know
that as the doughnuts disappear, the sands of their hourglass are running out.
If the parties fail to reach agreement by the time the doughnuts are gone, the
wicked witch will arrive and take the parties to due process.
The mediator's job is to shuttle back and forth between the rooms and communicate
to one party what the other party said. I have often wondered why this job requires
the services of a human being. My office dog, Lou, could just as easily carry
a note attached to his collar to and from the rooms, all for the price of a few
liver treats. When I offered his services for this purpose, however, I was told
that dogs aren't allowed in the board offices. I think that was an excuse, though,
because while I was speaking to the superintendent, Lou was engaging in an embarrassing
act of personal hygiene.
At any rate, the first offer to settle made to parents
at mediation by the school district will be a horribly insulting one such as:
"We promise not to do ________ at IEP meetings (choose one):
talk about you or your child as if you weren't there
(b) gasp audibly at
your Vision Statement
(c) express disbelief at the results of your child's
private, independent evaluation
(d) whisper to each other so you can't hear
what is being said.
must treat this first offer, no matter what it is, as they would a poopy diaper.
Pick up the piece of paper on which it is written while holding your nose and
deposit it directly in the circular file. Then get up and appear to be getting
ready to leave. The mediator, who wants to be paid for the whole day and has yet
to finish all the doughnuts, will beg you to stay and to return next time with
a better offer.
process of offer and rejection will continue all day without interruption or until
you pass out from hunger and thirst. All the while district staff and their lawyer
are dining on pizza and salad. You know this because the mediator now has tomato
sauce on his lapel and his breath smells from garlic.
At the end of the day, parents will be asked to
sign a written mediation agreement presented to them by the mediator with the
instruction that no changes can be made, and they have only three minutes to review
it. The mediator will stare at his watch while you read it so that you will feel
as pressured as possible.
The language of most mediation agreements
goes something like this:
Johnny's parents are a royal pain in the ass, and
WHEREAS, The District has
never, ever, done anything wrong and always follows the law to the letter,
WHEREAS, The District is paying its lawyer $300.00 per hour from PARENTS' tax
WHEREAS, the doughnuts are gone and the mediator wants to get the hell
out of here,
NOW, THEREFORE, The parties reach the following agreement:
Johnny will no longer receive speech therapy from the janitor, but will instead
receive therapy from a licensed speech pathologist;
2. Johnny will not
be required to participate in the singing of the "Hello" song and "The
Wheels on the Bus" now that he has reached his 15th birthday.
The previous IEP will be torn up into itty bitty pieces and a brand new one will
be drafted so the parties can start fighting about that one in time for our next
mediation to occur in three months.
4. Parents agree to WAIVE any and
all claims against the District from the beginning of time to the end of time
and can never bring any claim against the District ever again for any reason whatsoever,
not even if Johnny is accidentally left outside at recess when the temperature
is 2 degrees. Also, parents agree that District does not have to pay their attorney
fees even though the District's lawyer made enough money on the mediation alone
to buy a small yacht.
5. Parents are prohibited from speaking about the
terms of this agreement, even to each other, on pain of death.
parties understand that this entire mediation means nothing since the State Department
of Education has not provided any means for enforcement of this agreement.
staff will then emerge from their segregated room, well-fed and happy, shake the
parents' hands, and remind the mediator that he promised to meet them for dinner
The mediation is officially over when the parents feel as though
the "The Wheels on the Bus" have just rolled over them.
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