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Resolving Special Education Disputes:

A Brief Overview

Parents, such as you, and school districts often disagree regarding a child's special education.

  • You may believe their child needs more or different services, such as the provision of a 1:1 aide or speech and language therapy;

  • You may believe the school district's assessments are insufficiently comprehensive or inaccurate;

  • You may want your loved one mainstreamed in the general education environment with their non disabled peers;  

  • The school district may have failed to provide needed services that are included in your child's IEP.

  • There may be a whole host of other reasons for the dispute.

Ways to resolve special education disputes

There are a variety of ways to resolve a special education dispute. For instance, you may possibly attempt to resolve your special education 

dispute with the school district in a one of the following ways:


  • You may contact your child's teacher or other school staff and express your concerns;

  • You may contact the director of special education for the school district or the superintendent to voice your concerns about your child's education;

  • You may attend an IEP meeting;

  • Your attorney may file a complaint in state court or federal district court.

In most instances, you are not required to engage in any of the informal activities listed above to resolve your dispute before your attorney files a complaint on your behalf. It is recommended that before you take action, you discuss with an attorney how best to resolve your dispute. 

Resolving conflicts with school districts through due process

Sometimes parents and school districts are unable to resolve their disputes through informal means or through the IEP process. Due process ensures that you have a way to assert your rights and those of your child regarding special education through formal legal means. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), our federal special education law, a party has the right to file a request for a due process hearing about any matter relating to the following:

  • The identification,

  • Evaluation,

  • Educational placement of a child,

  • Or the provision of a free appropriate public education (FAPE) for a child.

It is recommended that parents be represented by a competent special education attorney

Although it may sound relatively easy to file a complaint against a school district,  parents need to keep in mind the risks involved in representing themselves or in being represented by an inexperienced attorney.

  • Without the representation of an experienced special education attorney, you are likely to have trouble analyzing the facts of your dispute with your child's school, knowing relevant law, applying the relevant facts to the law, and identifying the relevant legal issues in your case;

  • In other words, if you write a complaint without competent legal representation, your complaint is likely to be poorly drafted. It may even be dismissed;

  • You will most likely be going up against an attorney who is an expert in special education law. In many cases, you may be going up against more than one school district attorney. The attorney(s) may take advantage of you if you are unrepresented by an attorney or if your attorney lacks expertise in special education matters;

  • Many law firms that represent school districts are large. In addition to having many attorneys on staff, these law firms have support staff such as paralegals who draft legal documents that you may not understand;

  • The attorney for the school district may file various motions against you. A competent special education attorney representing you can respond appropriately;

  • Without competent representation, you may end up waiving several important rights when you agree to a settlement drafted by the school district's attorney and you may not get the supports your child needs;

  • You are more likely to lose at hearing if you represent yourself or are represented by an attorney inexperienced in special education matters.

Requests for special education due process

To request a hearing, your attorney will submit a complaint to the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH). OAH provides resolution services and conducts hearings for parents of children with special needs. A copy of your complaint will  be sent to your child’s school district. 

Dispute resolution after
filing for due process

After filing for due process, your attorney may work with the school district attorney to resolve the dispute informally. This relatively informal resolution process may take place by email or phone. Or, you may take advantage of a resolution session or mediation to settle your case.

Special education hearing

If your case does not settle there may be a hearing. An administrative law judge will conduct the hearing, which will focus on the issues contained in the due process complaint. During the hearing, both you and the school district will have the opportunity to present your cases through relevant evidence and testimony.


Following the due process hearing, the parties may submit closing arguments, which summarize the law and the facts that support each party's position. After the parties submit their closing arguments, the administrative law judge will issue a written decision. If you disagree with the decision, you have the right to appeal the decision in federal or state court.

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