Ask for mediation

Mediation is free. You will get a mediator to talk through the issue with you and the school.

This is a neutral person who is trained to help people find solutions when they disagree. Many parents find them to be very helpful and easy to talk to.

You can ask for mediation at any time in the process. If your dispute is about an expensive issue like 1-on-1 aides or major program changes, then it is usually a good idea to get mediation.

Here's what you can do:

  1. Call the Board of Special Education Appeals (BSEA) at 781-338-6443 and ask for mediation. They will put you in touch with the mediator assigned to your region.

  2. The mediator will set up a meeting within 30 calendar days.

  3. Prepare for the meeting. Click the box below for a list of things to think about in advance.

  4. You may also want to talk to a special education advocate or lawyer. They won't need to come to the meeting, but may be able to give you some advice. Click the boxes below to learn more.

Note: Asking for mediation doesn't mean it will automatically happen. The school must also agree.

Here is a list of helpful things you can do to prepare for mediation:

  1. Make an outline of the dispute: What is the disagreement about? What is your view?

  2. Decide what you want for your child: both short-term and long-term. What solutions can make these things happen?

  3. List the solutions you have thought of ahead of time to try and settle the dispute. List the most important solution first, then the next most important second, and so on.

  4. Share your ideas with other people you trust, like friends and family members. Ask for their thoughts and suggestions.

  5. Consider seeking help from a special education advocate or other professional adviser.

  6. Be prepared to explain to the mediator and the school district what you would like to discuss during the meeting.

  7. Remember - it's okay if the plan you start with isn't your first choice, as long as it's a plan that might work. You can always build on it or adjust it later.

  8. Mediation often involves a creative exchange of ideas before you make any decisions. It's okay to brainstorm different ideas.

  9. Remember to keep the focus on your child's needs.

This list is adapted from the state Bureau of Special Education Appeals (BSEA) website. (Click on it to open in a new tab.)

Source: Commonwealth of MA

What to expect at the meeting:

  • The mediator will lead the meeting.

  • What you all say here is confidential. Nothing from this meeting can be used later if you end up having a more formal hearing.

  • If you reach an agreement, the mediator will verbally summarize it, then put it in writing.

  • You and the school district will sign the written agreement and each get a copy. Keep this in your IEP binder in case you need to refer to it later.

Click the box below to learn more about what happens in these meetings.

The meeting may last anywhere from 2 hours to a full day.

Sometimes you need more than one session.

The mediation session has 3 parts:

Part 1: Preliminary Stage
  • The mediator typically introduces himself or herself

  • The mediator explains that he or she is a neutral party

  • Sometimes the mediator will assign seats

  • The mediator asks all participants to introduce themselves by name and their connection to the student

  • The mediator tries to create a friendly climate that allows for joint decision-making

  • They will review the purpose of mediation and the procedures for the session. This review typically includes paperwork, rules for the discussion, confidentiality rules, an explanation of the mediator's role, and suggestions of things to keep in mind

  • They will also explain different types of breaks that can happen during mediation:

    • recess: a break in the process. This gives everyone a chance to stop and think about what has just been discussed.

    • caucus: private meeting between the mediator and each side. This is a chance to share private information, or talk about how you are feeling. The mediator keeps all information from these private discussions confidential.

Part 2: Discussion
  • The mediator will give everyone the chance to share their concerns

  • The mediator will help make sure the discussion flows well, and that everyone has an equal chance to speak. They will also clarify and summarize the discussion points, and help with problem-solving.

  • The mediator might have each party break into caucuses at this point.

Part 3: Closure
  • If you come to an agreement, the mediator will summarize it and then put it in writing. The agreement will include the next steps, timing, and responsibilities

  • Everyone will sign the agreement

  • If you don't come to an agreement, the mediator will discuss other options

Source: Commonwealth of MA

If you don't reach an agreement in the meeting, the mediator will discuss other options.

To learn more, click the link at the bottom of the page to download a 2-page brochure. Note: A box will pop up and it seems like you need a password. Just click on "Read Only" and you can open it.


Sources: Collins (2013), Commonwealth of MA, MA DESE