Having IEP team meetings facilitated by an independent, trained “facilitator” is rapidly becoming a popular means for parents and school personnel to reach agreement in the educational decision making process for students needing or suspected of needing special education services. When the relationship between parents and school personnel become strained or better yet, before the relationship has the opportunity to fray, parents and school personnel are finding that using independent facilitators can assist the IEP team process. An independent facilitator may help parents and school personnel avoid misunderstandings or disagreements when it is believed that discussions at the meeting may become challenging. Using a trained, independent facilitator has been found to be an effective means to keep IEP teams focused on the development of the educational program for the student while addressing some of the conflicts and disagreements that may arise from miscommunication. The independent facilitator will utilize skills that create an environment in which the IEP team members; school personnel and parents, can listen to each other and work together to develop high quality education programs for students suspected of, or identified as disabled.
System Oversight, Infrastructure and Organization: 

System Design/Management

The IEP Meeting Facilitation Project was developed through a partnership between Community Mediation Maryland and the Maryland State Department of Education.  Community mediation centers in 13 counties now offer free facilitation for Individual Education Program (IEP) Team meetings. The goal of a facilitated IEP meeting is to help the IEP team communicate effectively and develop an educational program to meet the child’s need. The Maryland State Department of Education and Community Mediation Maryland are committed to expanding the service to all school system’s that are interested in providing this service to parents of students with disabilities and school personnel.


Independent IEP facilitation should not be confused with mediation. The independent facilitation occurs at a regular IEP team meeting, which is generally run by the school system. There is no written agreement other than an IEP, which may be developed or revised. While independently facilitated IEP team meetings are emerging as a means to avoid conflicts and/or to resolve conflicts prior to requesting mediation or filing a due process complaint, it is not required under the IDEA. States or local school systems are not required to offer the service. Mediation is typically used when there is a significant disagreement that the parties are otherwise unable to resolve. Mediation may be used to deal with a broader range of issues in special education than in an IEP meeting. A trained impartial mediator brings the parties together to work with each other to resolve a variety of disagreements, often including those not directly related to the student’s


The independent facilitator is a trained volunteer from a community mediation center, generally located in the jurisdiction where the student attends school, or in another community close to where the student attends school. The independent facilitator is not a member of the IEP team and does not have a relationship with the school or the parents, other than to assist in the meeting. The independent facilitator remains neutral and focuses on the process while the team makes the decisions.


The parent must provide their consent to allow the school to share confidential information about the student with the independent facilitator. This is required under the Family Education Rights Privacy Act. An important component of the IEP Facilitation process is the preparation work done by the independent facilitator in conversations with the parent and school personnel and the development of a formal agenda. In general, when a request is made at least 10 days in advance of a meeting, an independent facilitator can be assigned and this preparation work can be done. If the request is made with less time, all attempts will be made to provide an independent facilitator, but the
independent facilitation service cannot be provided if the independent facilitator is not able to contact the parent and school personnel in advance of the meeting.

Practitioner Standards & Professional Development: 

Practitioner Qualifications

The independent facilitator has completed a 50-hour training course in mediation skills, has experience mediating a variety of disputes, and has completed a 3-day training in IEP Team Meeting Facilitation.

Public Awareness & Outreach Activities: 

Availability/Accessing Services

An independent facilitator may be requested by either the parent or the school, in any of the participating school districts. However, both parties must agree to participate in this voluntary process. There is no cost to the parent or the school to have an independent facilitator assist in the IEP process. 


MD-6 IEP Facilitation_Introduction_FAQsOCT11

Evaluation & Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI): 


Parents and school personnel who have used independent facilitation at IEP team meetings report the following benefits:

  • Focus remains on the student
  • Parties are encouraged to fully participate
  • Positive working relationships between parents and school staff are strengthened
  • Opportunities are created for creative, win-win, solutions
  • Facilitation services are free to the parties and non-confrontational
  • Effective communication and listening skills are modeled
  • Parents and professionals are encouraged to identify new options to address unresolved problems
  • Is part of the regular IEP meeting and, therefore, does not require a separate meeting
  • All decisions are made by the team, rather than a mediator or a hearing officer
  • Points of agreement and disagreement are clarified