In 2015, government agency panel members from DC’s Office of the Ombudsman for Public Education, the Office of the Student Advocate, the Office of Dispute Resolution (OSSE), and DC Public Schools as well as, community organization panel members from DC’s School Talk and Advocates for Justice in Education, defined and discussed the new era of investment in programs that focus on early dispute resolution and relationship building instead of special education litigation. Since then, the focus in the District has been on developing the individual dispute resolution processes for the various agencies and organizations involved in the field. The increased number of processes has provided multiple opportunities to resolve conflict. However, it has also caused some duplication of efforts and lack of clarity amongst providers and the public. As a result, the positive impact for children and families slightly has been diminished. Currently, the District Special Education Dispute Resolution landscape consists of a number of dispute resolution mechanisms which include the following: Office of the State Superintendent of Education-Office of Dispute Resolution (OSSE) who adjudicates due process complaints but they are seeking to provide early dispute resolution through facilitated resolution meetings, and mediation for complaints before due process hearings are initiated. The Advocates for Justice and Education (AJE) provides parent training institutes for special education issues and is piloting an OSSE funded partnership with the District of Columbia Public Schools system facilitating IEP meetings. Also, AJE helps families file due process complaints and will represent families during due process hearings. The Office of the Ombudsman for Public Education plays a unique role in the early dispute resolution continuum. We are independent and impartial; we are able to provide intervention earlier in the process; and we take an empathetic approach while attempting to address power imbalance between vulnerable families and schools.

Restoring Focus on the Child: CADRE’s Seventh National Symposium