Mediation for Educators
Mediation is a problem-solving intervention that is used in creating solutions in a variety of disputes and conflicts. Mediation can be used anywhere there is a dispute. Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) is a continuum of problem solving methods with mediation as one of the options.
In an education setting, mediation is described as a method for encouraging school districts and parents to resolve disputes in ways that both find acceptable. One goal is to reach a resolution for a conflict without continuing to a due process hearing or civil proceeding. The Individuals With Disabilities Education Improvement Act Amendments of 2004 (IDEIA 2004) modified the state complaint procedures and the mediation process by encouraging the use a negotiated resolution for conflicts and proposed it as a viable option for resolving disputes at any time. In addition, the procedure encouraged a less adversarial, less time-consuming, less expensive, yet legally binding process. However, mediation was not a mandated requirement prior to filing a due process complaint.
One Mediation Process
This multi-stage process for mediation developed by Moore (1986) is flexible and promotes individualization to meet the needs of the participants. In this model, following introductory statements, the initial presentation of each participant’s point-of-view is shared in a 2-way exchange. Following the 2-way exchange stage, private caucuses for each party are available. At this stage, the problem is defined and clarified. In the next stage, solution options are generated, and then an agreement is written. If the terms to the agreement are agreed upon, the agreement terms are clarified and duties for each party assigned. If there is no agreement, then future problem-solving methods are addressed. In this reflective model, the goal is to reach an agreement that is acceptable to both parties.
It is important to understand that there are a variety of mediation procedures. If the decision is made to use mediation, and there is a question about the procedure, the mediator should be asked to describe the mediation process.
Throughout all mediation models, the role of the mediator remains neutral. The goal of participating in mediation is to assist the parties to reach their own resolution of their concerns through the process of mediation. Texas Education Agency provides for mediation at no cost to the district or parent. It is important to remember that mediation is an informal, voluntary process designed to help parents and schools reach a suitable agreement regarding a specific student’s special education program.
The mediator in a special education procedure is trained in mediation and is also knowledgeable in special education. It is important to remember that the mediator is a neutral party and does not advocate for the parent or school district. The primary goals for the mediator include the following: create a safe environment for open interaction; remain impartial; identify points of agreement; and clarify options (TEA, 2009).
The Texas Education Agency (TEA) website (2009) provides specific information to individuals considering mediation. Prior to a mediation session, TEA suggests the following: identify issues for discussion; inform the mediator of individuals you plan to invite to the session; focus on the student needs and potential, reasonable solutions; clear your schedule because the length of the session is unknown; provision of documents is not required; and, ask the mediator about the specific structure for the session. Legal counsel is not needed; however if either party invites an attorney, that party will be responsible to pay the cost for the attorney services.
The Role of the Educator
In most conflicts within the educational setting, the intention of most educators is to establish a relationship with parents where concerns are addressed through regular contact. Often, if parents and educators maintain an open communication system, concerns are addressed prior to the culmination of a formal complaint. However, if a neutral third party is needed for the resolution of the concern, mediation is available.
In summary, in special education settings, a parent or a school district may request mediation if there is a disagreement about special education services. The involvement of a neutral third party to help resolve the dispute may be helpful. Mediation offers an opportunity for the parties to meet in a setting that encourages working together to resolve the differences.