In the Michigan Revised Administrative Rules for Special Education (1987) there are two methods listed for solving disputes in special education. They are: the Due Process Hearing and Mediation. Due Process Hearings are legalistic and adversarial while Mediations are based on negotiation and reconciliation. The researcher compared the perceptions of the disputants within each process. Also compared are the perceptions of similar disputant roles between processes. The purpose was: (1) to obtain demographic data on the parents and students who were disputants and (2) to compare the processes, themselves.
The populations of hearings and Mediations from 7-1-88 to 12-31-89 were sampled. Parents, directly involved school administrators, hearing officers and mediators were interviewed by telephone with the same series of question with appropriate context modifications requiring them to recall particulars about their perceptions of their Mediation(s) or Due Process Hearing(s).
The use of both processes seemed limited to parents making $40,000 or more per year and those with at least some college education. Students about whom Mediations occur were younger than those about whom hearings are held. Female students were more often represented in Mediations despite the fact that two thirds of the population in special education is male. Gender ratios in hearings approximated state wide averages.
When it came to special education dispute resolution, only the schools come away satisfied with the results or process. Parents in general, are not happy with either the process or results of Mediation or Due Process Hearings. This is not surprising since parents lose 86% of Due Process Hearings and they usually compromise during Mediation. However, when one examines the two dispute resolution alternatives together, an important image emerges. On nearly any measure one chooses (cost, cooperation, satisfaction, fairness, settlement and reoccurrence of conflict) parents participating in Mediations are significantly more positive about the process than those participating in hearings. Mediation is less costly, less legalistic, fosters more cooperation, reoccurs less frequently and results in greater satisfaction on the part of parents and schools than Due Process Hearings.