Mediation Frequently Asked Questions
How will mediation help me?
Mediation gives all participants equal opportunities to solve their problems by developing an agreement which reflects the best educational interests of the child(ren). Mediation is free and designed to channel confrontation into effective decision making. If an agreement is not reached, you can still request a due process hearing, or try mediation at another time.
What are the benefits of mediation?
- Parties keep control over the outcome of problems which affect them.
- Feelings and facts are considered with the help of an unbiased mediator.
- Mediation promotes better relationships through improved communication and constructive problem-solving.
- Problems can be settled promptly. A session is scheduled as soon as both parties agree to come to the table. Most special education mediations last between four and six hours.
- Mediation saves time and money for families and schools.
- Mediation is private and confidential.
- Issues can be considered and resolved in a non-adversarial manner.
- Over 75% of cases achieve resolution, with 100% implementation after 60 days.
How much does it cost?
There is no cost to the people involved in the mediation. Because of the proven effectiveness of the process to resolve situations in a way which often results in a high sense of satisfaction for all those involved, the Nebraska Department of Education strongly encourages the use of mediation. The Department has contracted with Nebraska's non-profit mediation system to provide all services at no cost to participants.
Who can request mediation, and when?
Mediation is your right. It can be requested by anyone with a concern with a special education situation at any time. Specifically, it may be requested by a student, a student's parent or guardian, an educational surrogate parent, school staff, or others involved in a student's education and related services. Mediation may occur at any time, prior to or concurrent with a request for a due process hearing. Mediation does not interfere with either the right to due process or timelines.
What type of issues can be mediated?
Common types of disputes include: disagreements concerning the identification, evaluation, educational placement, or provision of the free appropriate public education of learners with disabilities; communication problems among interested parties; strained relationships between family and the school district; and, assessment or trust issues.
How can I request mediation?
It's easy. Contact your regional mediation center and explain your situation. The Intake Coordinators will answer any questions, ask who else you feel should be involved, and contact all parties to get agreements to mediate and schedule a mediation session.
What will happen in mediation?
When you contact your mediation center, the process will be explained to you and any questions will be answered. Briefly, the intake coordinator will ask you about the situation and who you suggest to be involved in the mediation. The coordinator will contact all participants and, if everyone agrees to mediation, will schedule a time and place. The mediators will ask each participant to explain the situation from their point of view, will ask questions to clarify each participants issues and interests, will identify what they hear as the issues and check with all participants to see if they've missed anything, will work with the participants to determine the best order to address the issues, will help everyone brainstorm possible solutions to each issue, will write up solutions which appear satisfactory to everyone, and will check back with each participant to make sure a potential solution will really work for them. If everyone is satisfied with the solutions reached, an agreement will be written for all to sign.
Will mediation be confidential?
When a mediation session is scheduled, all participants will be asked to sign a consent form. In it, the participants agree to keep the mediation confidential. Only if all participants agree may any part of the mediated discussions be shared outside of the mediation session. If the mediation results in an agreement all are willing to sign, that agreement does not need to be made public, nor does it need to be shared with the Department of Education. Under state law, mediators in this program must keep confidential all information discussed during a mediation session; they cannot be called as a witness should there be any future hearings or administrative proceedings on the matter.
After each mediation, and again 60 days later, each participant is asked by the state mediation system to evaluate the mediation process. Compiled results are provided to the Department of Education. The Department also receives billing information for each case, identified only by case number, and a report of the result of the case: Mediated, no/partial/full agreement, resolved prior, etc.
What if I want the Department of Education to know about the agreement?
At any time during the mediation process, the parties can mutually agree who needs to know what about their agreement for what purpose. Therefore, all the parties involved in your mediation would have to agree to disclose to the Department of Education details of your agreement that wouldn't be self evident in its implementation. At no time is it acceptable to disclose to anyone outside of the mediation session the discussions, climate, reactions, names, or any other details about your mediation experience.
Do I have to file a copy of our agreement with the state?
Do I have to file a complaint or petition for a hearing before mediation?
No. In Nebraska you can access the mediation option at any time you have a special education issue to be resolved. Although IDEA 97 mentions mediation specifically only at the time of petitioning for a hearing, it is available at any time an issue arises. You have the right to contact a mediation center, to explore the possibilities, and to decide to request mediation whenever you have the goal of improving communication or the working relationship, building trust, or creating a solution to the problem.
What if I don't like the agreement?
There will be no agreement unless you voluntarily accept it. If you are not happy with anything suggested as a possible solution, no one will force you to go along with it. You do have a responsibility to express yourself when you are dissatisfied during the mediation. You will be an active participant in the mediation. The mediators are skilled at managing dynamics and helping people discern what they really want. Agreements are reached through a powerful process, with numerous steps to assure all the parties are in fact satisfied that their issues and interests have been met. Those who agree to mediate have a very high probability of finding resolution. For the 1998-99 year, the current rate of resolution is 89% for those who choose to go to the table!
What if I know there are violations of federal law going on...why would I go to mediation?
Mediation is always available to you. What do you want to gain? Consider the pluses and minuses of your alternatives - mediation, complaint, hearing, do nothing, etc. - and decide for yourself which you think is most likely to be the right option for you at this time.
What if the mediators don't know enough about special education?
Mediators are experts in helping people discuss problems constructively. The mediators are specially trained to mediate special education situations, but they are not experts in special education. If specific expertise is needed, the mediators will explore with you what options might be available to bring that expertise to the discussions. At any time during mediation, if you have any concerns about a mediator, discuss your concerns openly with the mediator. The mediators will work with you and the others in mediation to find the best ways to address the many interpersonal issues.
Will staff from the state department ever be called into a mediation?
Only in unusual circumstances. If someone at the department were directly a part of the dispute in question, possibly the parties would want that person at the table. This will likely be identified during intake. The intake coordinator will work with all the parties involved to get the agreed upon "right people" to agree to mediation.
Why doesn't the state department make it mandatory so all school districts and parents will have to agree to mediate?
This question raises so many good questions about mediation as a radically different way of dealing with problems and ethics. First, in 1994 the NE Department of Education decided "voluntary" was consistent with the principals and philosophy of mediation. It is also believed that people will be more genuine in their interest to mediate if it's voluntary. Not to mention that's the way IDEA 97 is currently written! We struggle with this one. For the first four years of mediation in Nebraska, schools were significantly more likely to refuse to mediate with parents. Now in year five it's about even. IDEA is silent on follow up with a refusing school district, but suggests that a neutral follow up with refusing parents. Who should follow up? What happens to confidentiality if there is a follow up from out side the mediation system? (Mediators by definition in Nebraska are unaffiliated with any disputant personally, their agency, or organization; or the mediator could be perceived as biased.) So, mediation is voluntary and all are encouraged to honestly avail themselves of the mediation possibilities.
When is the mediators' decision announced?
Trick question. Mediators do not make decisions, issue findings, or make suggestions. The role of the mediators is to manage the process of mediation, assure all parties are treated with respect, and assist all the participants to fully explain their interests, issues, or positions. Through the mediation process you are likely to get a better understanding of the problem that brought you to the table, as well as the possibility of improving your relationship, trust, and communication with the other participants. In the end, you will make your own decisions. Mutually beneficial arrangements are discovered during the process, with the help of the skills and tools of the special education mediators.
Who are the mediators?
The mediators are professionally trained and experienced community volunteers affiliated with one of six non-profit mediation centers approved by the Nebraska Office of Dispute Resolution. They mediate a wide range of situations within our communities, including special education cases. They are not part of the Nebraska Department of Education.
Do I have to have an attorney?
No, although you may if you so choose. Attorneys are neither required nor prohibited. The role of attorneys in Nebraska mediation is defined, however, and is different from the traditional role of attorney as spokesperson or advocate. If the parties agree to include an attorney or attorneys, the appropriate participation of attorneys during mediation will be described by the mediators for everyone's benefit. You will still be encouraged to speak for yourself. If you do choose to bring an attorney, it will be at your own expense.