The Pennsylvania Office for Dispute Resolution (ODR) provides resources for parents and educational agencies to resolve educational disputes for children served by the early intervention system, students who are gifted (or thought to be gifted), and students more/less with disabilities (or thought to have disabilities). ODR is committed to seek out and offer varying alternative dispute resolution activities and options for constituents. ODR understands the importance of due process; however there are several steps that can be taken prior to filing for a due process hearing in an attempt to reach a resolution. The alternative dispute resolution options that ODR offers have shown to be successful in helping parties reach an agreement. Pennsylvania has been named an Exemplary Dispute Resolution System in Special Education by the Center for Appropriate Dispute Resolution in Special Education (CADRE).
Just as for any IEP meeting, the IEP Facilitation meeting is scheduled by the school at a time and place that is mutually agreeable to all required IEP team members. Notification about an IEP Facilitation meeting is the same as any other IEP meeting. The school district is still required to give proper notice of the IEP meeting to the parents, including the purpose, time, location, and list of who has been invited. Attendance at an IEP Facilitation meeting is the same as any other IEP meeting. The required members of the IEP team attend the meeting, in addition to the Facilitator. As with nonfacilitated IEP meetings, parents have the option to invite an advocate or other people who have knowledge or special expertise regarding their child. As with any IEP meeting, if the parties to an IEP Facilitated meeting are not able to resolve the disagreements preventing them from drafting a mutually-agreeable IEP, they are free
to pursue other forms of dispute resolution such as mediation or a due process hearing.
What takes place at this meeting may not be confidential unless both parties agree in writing that it is.
EP facilitators are not hearing officers and do not have the authority to make decisions for the parties if the parties are unable to agree. They are not advocates for either party. They help the members of the IEP team focus on the issues at hand during the IEP meeting. The facilitator’s role is to focus the dynamics of the meeting to ensure that the participants interact respectfully, that the perspectives of all the participants are heard, and that the participants focus on the issues and future actions.
- Helps the IEP team focus on the student’s needs.
- May help create an overall agenda and assist in generating ground rules for the meeting, with the agreement of all IEP team members.
- Assists the IEP team to resolve conflicts and disagreements that arise during the meeting. The IEP Facilitator typically does not address disputes unrelated to the IEP.
- Helps to maintain open communication among all IEP team members.
- Models effective communication and listening.
- Helps to keep IEP team members on task and within the time allotted for the meeting.
- Maintains impartiality and does not take sides, place blame, or determine if a particular decision is right or wrong.
- Clarifies points of agreement and disagreement.
- Ensures that the meeting is student focused.
- Does not impose a decision on the group.
- Is not a member of the IEP team.
- Does not chair the meeting or write the IEP.
IEP facilitators are third-party neutrals with a thorough understanding of special education law and procedures.
Either the parents or the school district can request IEP Facilitation; however, since the process is voluntary, both sides must agree. IEP teams interested in IEP Facilitation should submit the completed and signed request form to ODR at least two weeks prior to the IEP meeting. ODR will make every attempt to locate a facilitator who is available in the time frame chosen by the IEP team. If no facilitator is available on this date, however, the IEP team may need to reschedule the date or proceed without the facilitator. When everyone agrees to IEP Facilitation, a request form is completed and signed by the parents and the district and then submitted to ODR. This form is available from ODR, or online at ODR’s website: http://odr-pa.org/alternative-dispute-resolution/iep-facilitation/. There is no cost to the parents or the school district for IDEA related IEP facilitation.