Can Districts Still Find Resolution After a Due Process Hearing Has Been Requested?
School districts and parents across Texas are regularly working together to ensure that the needs of students are met and that the district is providing a free appropriate public education (FAPE). Every child is unique; likewise, every Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is just as distinct. When a disagreement arises and disputes occur, the district and parents have the ability to go through various dispute resolution processes. The Texas Education Agency encourages and supports the resolution of any dispute that arises between the parent and a school district relating to the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of or the provision of a FAPE to a student.
Several options exist for resolving disputes at any level or stage. Some of those options include but are not limited to: ARD meetings; meetings or conferences with the student’s teacher, campus administrator, or special education director; mediation through TEA; and filing a complaint or due process hearing through TEA. Districts and parents utilize these formal and informal methods to problem solve and settle disagreements.
But once a parent has formally filed a request for a due process hearing, is there any hope left for resolution or are the parent and district forced to go through with a due process hearing before a hearing officer? The answer is, yes, there is hope for resolution before a due process hearing. In fact, the majority of due process hearing requests are resolved without a hearing.
Summary of the Resolution Session
The great news for districts and parents who want to attempt resolution before moving forward with a due process hearing is that the IDEA has set out a requirement for school districts to convene a meeting within 15 days of receiving notice of a parent’s due process complaint.
The purpose of the meeting is for the parent to discuss the due process complaint and the facts that form the basis of the complaint so that the district has an opportunity to better understand, and possibly resolve, the dispute without either side expending additional time and resources in a due process hearing.
This resolution process is required; there are only two circumstances when the resolution session can be skipped:
(1) When the parent and school district agree in writing to waive the meeting; and
(2) When the parent and school district agree to use the mediation process described in 34 CFR § 300.506 to resolve the due process complaint.
An agreement to use another alternative dispute resolution mechanism if available in the State, by itself, would not relieve the school district or the parent of the obligation to convene a resolution meeting.
Who Should Attend a Resolution Session?
The resolution meeting should include the parent and relevant members of the IEP team who have specific knowledge of the facts identified in the due process complaint. The meeting must include a district representative who has decision-making authority on behalf of the district. 34 CFR 300.510 (a)(1)(i). Legal counsel for the district cannot attend a resolution session unless the parent is accompanied by an attorney.
Participation in a Resolution Session
Participation is mandatory. If a parent fails to participate in a resolution session, the school district can ask the hearing officer to dismiss the due process complaint. The following are examples of a failure to participate:
- The parent does not respond to the school district’s request to schedule a resolution session.
- The parent does not agree to meet before the expiration of the resolution period.
- The parent conditions their participation in a resolution session on the district’s promise to keep the meeting confidential.
- The parent attends the meeting but remains silent during the entire meeting.
- The parent does not allow the school district to offer its response or proposed resolutions.
School districts must also keep in mind that the district has a duty to schedule the resolution meeting within the resolution period and participate in it.
The Outcome of a Resolution Session: What Happens Next?
If a resolution is reached at the resolution session, then the parties must execute a legally binding agreement. To ensure the agreement meets the criteria set out under the IDEA, school districts should seek the advice of their legal counsel.
If the school district and parents do not reach an agreement during the resolution session, then the following options are available:
- The parties can agree to attempt mediation. Mediation is very helpful because it is facilitated by a skilled mediator with special experience in IDEA matters. Legal counsel for each of the parties can also be involved in the mediation process which can greatly improve the chances of resolution.
- The parties will proceed with the due process hearing.
The resolution session is a great tool for the school district to learn more about the complaint and possibly resolve it without a costly legal proceeding. But keep in mind that the district may already be fully aware of the facts that form the basis of the complaint, or the relationship between the school district and parent is strained to the point where a resolution session may not be the best option. If you have questions about whether your school district should utilize the resolution session or instead attempt mediation or proceed with a due process hearing after a complaint has been filed, please contact the author of this post or any other member of the Thompson & Horton special education team.