The Road to Resolution – What To Do When You Have a Disagreement with the School District
The Road to Resolution – What To Do When You Have a Disagreement with the School District
This document explains the different steps you can take when you have a disagreement with the school district about your child’s special education program. Review our template letters and example compliance complaints below for additional help.
As your child’s advocate, you may find yourself in a disagreement with the school district. You may disagree with the school district on different issues. You may disagree with a school district’s proposed change to a current IEP. You may disagree with an already-signed IEP because you believe that your child’s needs have changed but the school district disagrees with you. Disagreements can be about goals, services, supports, and placement. If you have a disagreement with your child’s school district, you have options to resolve this disagreement.
You can try to resolve the disagreement locally – through your child’s school district or Special Education Local Plan Area (SELPA). A SELPA works with school districts in a specific area to provide special education services to students with disabilities. You can also file a complaint. What type of complaint you file depends on the issues in your child’s case. This publication explains the different options that you may have to resolve your disagreement with the school district.
Resolving Disagreements at the Local Level
It may be a good idea to try to resolve any disagreement you have with your school district by starting with the school district. This may be cheaper and faster than other options. If you can resolve the disagreement at the local level, you can help maintain relationships with school staff. You may be more likely to get the IEP team to support your requested changes.
You can request an IEP meeting, write a letter to the District’s Director of Special Education, or ask for alternative dispute resolution. Each of these options are reviewed below.
Ask the District to Hold an IEP meeting
If your child already has an IEP, you can request an IEP meeting to talk about any changes to your child’s IEP. You should ask for an IEP meeting in writing. The District must hold an IEP meeting within 30 days of receipt of your written request. But, this timeline pauses during days in between regular school sessions or school vacations that are more than five school days.
You can use this template letter to request an IEP meeting.
You can request to audio record the IEP meeting. You must give the district 24 hours’ notice. Similarly, a school district may audio record a meeting with 24 hours’ notice to you. However, the district cannot audio record the meeting if you object. If you object to the district audio recording, then there can be no audio recording of the meeting by either the district or you.
If you and the IEP team cannot reach an agreement, then you can tell the IEP team that you disagree. You can request to end the IEP meeting. You can also agree with some parts of the IEP and disagree with other parts. Most importantly, you do not have to sign the IEP at the meeting.
Instead, it is reasonable for you to have a copy made of the proposed IEP to take home to read over more closely. You are allowed to discuss the IEP with your spouse, partner, or someone else before deciding whether to sign. You may not be able to take the original IEP home with you. Your child remains eligible for special education services and stays in their current placement while you decide whether to consent to the IEP. If you do not consent or file for due process in a reasonable period of time, then the district may file for due process against you.
Write a letter to the District’s Director of Special Education
If you cannot resolve a disagreement with your child’s IEP team, you can write a letter to your District’s Special Education Director. This letter allows you to share your concerns about your child’s IEP with the District’s Special Education Director. This letter also allows you to share any disagreements you have with your child’s IEP team. The District’s Special Education Director may be able to help you and your child’s IEP team.
You can find your District’s Special Education Director on the District’s website or call the District’s main office. You can use this template letter to the District’s Special Education Director:
Template Letter to District Special Education Director
Ask for Alternative Dispute Resolution options from the District/SELPA
Your school district may provide alternative dispute resolution options, like a facilitated IEP meeting, parent to parent advocates, or a mediation through the SELPA. Alternative dispute resolution, or ADR, is a type of dispute resolution that is cheaper and faster than traditional legal options. It may be less formal than a court. You do not need an attorney. It is a way to resolve disputes outside of the courtroom.
A facilitated IEP meeting includes an impartial facilitator. The facilitator is not a part of the IEP team. The facilitator helps the IEP team address any conflicts that come up during the IEP meeting and helps keep the IEP team focused on the student’s IEP.
ADR options are different in each district. To learn more about your District’s ADR options, contact your child’s case manager, program specialist, and/or the District’s Special Education Director.
If your child’s school district does not offer ADR, then you may want to contact your SELPA. You can ask the SELPA to tell you what types of ADR options they can provide to help you. The California Department of Education maintains a list of SELPAs: https://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/se/as/caselpas.asp.
Filing a Complaint to Resolve Your Disagreement with a School District
If you are unable to resolve your disagreement at the local level, you may have other options to resolve your disagreement with the school district. This may include filing a complaint against the school district. There are different types of complaints that you can file against a school district. What type of complaint you file depends on the issues in your child’s case.
Uniform Complaint Procedures Complaint with your School District
You can file a Uniform Complaint Procedures (UCP) complaint with the District superintendent or their designee. A UCP complaint is a written and signed statement alleging a violation of federal or state laws or regulations. A UCP complaint may include an allegation of unlawful discrimination, harassment, intimidation, or bullying. You can contact your District to get more information about your District’s UCP complaint process.
The California Department of Education has more information on its Uniform Complaint Procedures webpage: https://www.cde.ca.gov/re/cp/uc/.
Due Process Complaint with the Office of Administrative Hearings
Either you or the school district can request a due process hearing if you disagree about your child’s IEP, eligibility, placement, program needs, or related services. You can file different types of due process complaints. These types include: mediation only, due process hearing only, due process and mediation, or expedited due process hearing. Each of these types are briefly reviewed below.
If you have a dispute with the school about a change with your child’s IEP, you can request “stay put”. School districts cannot change special education services or placements on their own. School districts must get your consent. Sometimes, when there is a dispute, school districts go ahead and make the change without your consent. When you request “stay put” your child’s current placement and services remain the same until you and the school resolve the dispute. If the school wants to make a change to your child’s IEP, it should provide you with Prior Written Notice. Prior Written Notice gives you information about the school’s proposed change.
For more information about filing a due process complaint with the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH), please see DRC’s Special Education Rights and Responsibilities Manual, Chapter 6: https://serr.disabilityrightsca.org/serr-manual/chapter-6-information-on-due-process-compliance-procedures/.
Either the district or parent files a request for mediation only with OAH. OAH will issue both parties a Notice of Mediation advising all parties of the date for mediation. Mediation is voluntary. One party may choose not to attend. If the mediation is held, the parties will reach an agreement or not. Once the mediation is held, OAH will close the case. If the parties did not reach an agreement then the party requesting the mediation can file a due process complaint by filing a new action.
The OAH has a blank form to request Mediation-only from the OAH: https://www.dgs.ca.gov/OAH/Case-Types/Special-Education/Forms/Request-for-Mediation-Only-Form.
This type of complaint allows the parties to go directly to a prehearing conference and then to hearing. A party may file for due process only when the parties have already unsuccessfully tried mediation or when the parties cannot resolve their disagreement. At the hearing, both sides present evidence. Each side calls witnesses and submits any reports and evaluations that support their position. An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) decides whose witnesses and documents are correct and what program is appropriate.
The OAH has a blank form to request a due process hearing only: https://www.dgs.ca.gov/OAH/Case-Types/Special-Education/Forms/Request-for-Hearing-Only.
Due process hearing and mediation
This is the most common type of due process complaint. In this type of complaint, the parties can set a date for mediation. If the parties do not resolve their disagreement, the parties will go to hearing. At the hearing, both sides present evidence. Each side calls witnesses and submits any reports and evaluations that support their position. An ALJ decides whose witnesses and documents are correct and what program is appropriate.
The OAH has a blank form to request a due process hearing and mediation: https://www.dgs.ca.gov/OAH/Case-Types/Special-Education/Forms/Request-for-Mediation-and-Due-Process-Hearing-Form
Expedited due process
An expedited due process complaint raises issues that should be expedited based on the law. “Expedited” means that the issues require the case to be resolved on a faster timeline. Oftentimes, these issues involve decisions about discipline that must be resolved quickly so that the student’s education is not impacted by delay. OAH will review the complaint and identify if the issues in the complaint should be “expedited”.
Some due process complaints may be a “dual” case – the complaint raises expedited and non-expedited issues. For a dual case, all issues will be resolved on the faster timeline.
For more information about expedited due process hearings, please see DRC’s publication “My Child with a Disability Keeps Getting Suspended or Recommended for Expulsion” https://www.disabilityrightsca.org/publications/my-child-with-a-disability-keeps-getting-suspended-or-recommended-for-expulsion.
File a compliance complaint with the California Department of Education
When the district appears to have violated a part of special education law or procedure, a parent, individual, public district or organization can file a compliance complaint with the California Department of Education (CDE). Examples of violations include:
- failure to implement an individualized education program (IEP);
- failure to assess or refer a student to special education;
- failure to follow timelines for assessment and referral; or
- failure to inform parents of an IEP meeting.
For more information about filing a compliance complaint, please see DRC’s Special Education Rights and Responsibilities Manual, Chapter 6: https://serr.disabilityrightsca.org/serr-manual/chapter-6-information-on-due-process-compliance-procedures/
An example compliance complaint is available here.
DRC also has a template compliance complaint if your child has experienced COVID-19 special education issues. This template complaint is available here. You can use this template compliance complaint; you can copy and paste into a document, complete with your information, and then send to the CDE. We have included an email and fax number for CDE, so that you can file your complaint either by email or fax. You can also submit a complaint using an online fillable complaint form, which you can access through this link: https://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/se/qa/documents/sedcomplaintform.pdf.
File a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights
The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) investigates violations of schools that receive federal financial assistance. The OCR also investigates violations of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act by public entities, like school districts.
Complaints with the OCR must be filed within 180 days of the discrimination unless you have already gone through your school’s internal grievance process. If you have completed your school’s internal grievance process, you must file your complaint with the OCR within 60 days of your school’s decision. You can find information about filing a complaint with the OCR at https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/index.html. OCR has released a technical assistance video called “How to File a Complaint with the OCR” to help parents, families, students, and stakeholders better understand how they can file an OCR complaint; this video is available at www.youtube.com/embed/dvxa5dYNKK8.
Disclaimer: This publication is legal information only and is not legal advice about your individual situation. It is current as of the date posted. We try to update our materials regularly. However, laws are regularly changing. If you want to make sure the law has not changed, contact DRC or another legal office.