To encourage early resolution of issues, the IDEA Amendments of 1997 and IDEA 2004 mandate that all states offer mediation to parents and local education agencies as a voluntary initial process for the resolution of special education disputes. Wisconsin Statutes, Chapter 115.797, also mandates that Wisconsin offer mediation as an option. The Wisconsin Special Education Mediation System (WSEMS) is funded with a discretionary grant awarded by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.
The Wisconsin Special Education Mediation System (WSEMS) provides assistance to parents (or adult students) and school districts in resolving special education disputes. WSEMS offers mediation and facilitated IEP meetings at no cost to either party. Below are some frequently asked questions regarding mediation and IEP facilitation. For more information, visit the website for WSEMS at www.wsems.us.
- What is Mediation?
Mediation is facilitated negotiation in which a neutral third party, a mediator, helps parties resolve their disputes in a private setting. The mediator does not impose a decision on the parties, as is done in a due process hearing, but rather assists the parties to work together to identify issues, generate options, and create their own solutions. Because mediation is voluntary, either party (or the mediator) may end the process at any time. Discussions that occur during the mediation process are confidential. A due process hearing does not need to be initiated in order to access mediation services. However, mediation may not deny or delay a student's rights to a due process hearing.
- Who May Request Mediation?
Either a parent or school district, or both, may initiate a request for mediation services. A request for mediation services is started by using a request for mediation form [Espanol] that can be submitted by fax or email. The request should include a brief description of the dispute and identify both parties.
- Joint Request
In the case of a joint request, which is the most efficient method of requesting mediation, both parties to the dispute jointly sign and send a single request for mediation form [Espanol] to the WSEMS. The WSEMS will work with the parties to appoint a qualified mediator from the mediator roster in a timely manner.
- Non-Joint (Single) Request
In the case of a single request, a request for mediation form [Espanol] should be sent to the WSEMS by the requesting party. The WSEMS will notify the other party, within 5 business days of the request for mediation, by a written notice (certified mail or dated fax) which will include a request that the other party notify the WSEMS within 5 business days after receiving the notice regarding its willingness to participate in mediation. The WSEMS is available to either party to explain the benefits of the mediation process. If the WSEMS does not receive a timely response, or if the other party notifies the WSEMS of the refusal to participate in mediation, the WSEMS will notify the party that requested the mediation. If the responding party agrees to mediate, the case will be referred with input from the parties to a qualified mediator from the roster in a timely manner.
- Roster of Mediators
As provided by law, the system maintains a roster of mediators qualified to resolve disputes. Mediators have completed a 5-day intensive training program on special education law and mediation and are required to participate in one day of additional WSEMS training annually. The roster includes mediators with a wide variety of mediation experience who are geographically distributed statewide. WSEMS may appoint a mediator if the parties don't nominate someone from the roster, but both parties must agree on the mediator's services. The mediator will receive a copy of the request for mediation. Compensation for the mediator who is listed on the WSEMS roster is provided through the grant, and the parties to the dispute do not pay for the mediation services.
- Using A Non-Roster Mediator
If the parties cannot agree on a mediator from the roster, or if the parties have agreed to mediation by a mediator who is not on the roster, parties to the dispute will be expected to pay for the mediation services.
- Mediation Session
Unless both parties agree otherwise, mediation shall begin within 21 days after the mediator is appointed and shall not delay hearings or appeals related to the dispute. The mediator will contact the parties to arrange the mediation session. Mediation sessions will be conducted at a neutral site and at a day and time convenient to all parties. The mediator will require the parties to sign an agreement to mediate which contains a confidentiality provision.
The mediator and either party may withdraw from mediation at any time.
- Written Agreement
If the parties resolve the dispute or a portion of the dispute, the agreement is in writing, signed by the parties, and a copy of the agreement is given to each party. The agreement is legally binding, so the parties should not sign any document they do not fully understand.
WSEMS offers a neutral, trained professional from the roster of mediators to facilitate IEP team meetings. The facilitator helps IEP team participants maintain open and effective communication, keeps team members on task, and facilitates the resolution of conflicts that arise in the development of the IEP. Either the parent or the school district may request IEP facilitation [Espanol] by contacting WSEMS; but both parties must agree to the facilitation, and either party may withdraw their agreement at any time.
- WSEMS Website: http://www.wsems.us - The website includes information about the mediation system and services offered, the Request for Mediation form [Espanol], and links to mediation regulations.
- A brochure with information about mediation and the WSEMS is available for distribution to parents and district personnel by contacting the WSEMS.
Jane Burns, Intake Coordinator and System Administrator
Wisconsin Special Education Mediation System
Burns Mediation Services
P.O. Box 829
Madison, WI 53701-0829
Toll free: (888) 298-3857
Fax: (262) 538-1348
TTY: (262) 538-1618