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IDEA 2004 Close Up: Resolving Disagreements Between Parents and Schools

Read about options parents have for negotiating disagreements about their children's special education placement or program.

By Candace Cortiella, The Advocacy Institute

Since the earliest special education legislation, Congress has recognized that the often complex process of planning and implementing special education programs for students with disabilities might lead to disagreements between schools and families. To help address this inevitable conflict, the Act's procedural safeguards contain several provisions to help schools and families resolve disagreements.

In each of the last two renewals of the Act, in 1997 and more recently in 2004, Congress has sought to provide expanded opportunities for early resolution of disputes. And, in an attempt to provide informal and less contentious ways to resolve disagreements, many states have developed additional strategies for early dispute resolution. Many of these strategies attempt to strengthen relationships between parents and school personnel. They offer a range of informal problem-solving and conflict resolution approaches, including stakeholder training and Individualized Education Program (IEP) facilitation.

Most Frequent Areas of Disagreement

Within special education, conflicts arise between schools and families for a variety of reasons. Most often, the design and/or delivery of special education services form the basis for the disagreement. Design issues include:

  • eligibility for services
  • methodology of intervention
  • perceptions about student needs
  • the scope of the IDEA entitlement
  • educational placement

Delivery issues include problems associated with implementing the student's IEP that has been agreed upon by the family and the school district. Delivery issues include:

  • competence of the special education services provider (for example, the special education teacher)
  • scheduling (for example, times and days special education services are to be provided to the student)
  • transportation
  • coordination of services
  • procedural requirements
  • privacy and/or confidentiality

Candace Cortiella's work as Director of the nonprofit The Advocacy Institute focuses on improving the lives of people with learning disabilities, through public policy and other initiatives. The mother of a young adult with learning disabilities, she lives in the Washington, D.C., area.

Comments from readers

"How can a parent of a special needs child get help when not agreeing with meetings the school have without the parents involvement about punishment being carried over from one year to another without the teacher taking it out on the special needs child whenever a parent speaks up?"