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Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania

Going to Mediation to Resolve Special Education Disputes: What is it and how can it help my child?

What is Mediation in the context of special education disputes?

Has your school district removed or decreased your child’s speech and language service(s) or occupational therapy service(s) from your child’s IEP? Or proposed that your child be removed from his or her local elementary school and placed in a different elementary school in an emotional support classroom?  If you disagree with your school district’s special education decision(s) regarding your child’s services or placement, one option for resolving that dispute is to request mediation.  

In Pennsylvania, the Office for Dispute Resolution (ODR) oversees the formal mediation process in special education matters.  Mediation is a voluntary process.  Both the school district and the parent(s) must agree to participate in it.  If you request mediation, but the school district does not agree to participate, then mediation will not take place. Generally, school districts are amenable to participating because it is a less adversarial process than going to a due process hearing. 

Mediation can address any special education disagreement, including whether your child’s school district is complying with the IEP, whether your child’s school district is discriminating against your child, or whether your school district is recommending a change of placement that you do not believe is your child’s least restrictive environment (LRE).

What are the steps to file for mediation?

Online Form: The easiest way to file for mediation is to submit a request for mediation directly to The Office of Dispute Resolution (ODR) using their online form. You fill in the applicable information, press submit, and will receive an email confirmation shortly after.  If you are working with an attorney, the attorney can complete the mediation complaint on your behalf.  

*Of note, in addition to filling out the form online, you will also need to complete the Notice of Recommended Education Placement (NOREP) given to you by your child’s school district and check off the Mediation box on the NOREP. If you were not given a NOREP, send a copy of the mediation complaint form to the special education director of your child’s school.

PDF Form: The other option is to print out the PDF form from the ODR website to make the request. If you use the PDF form, you should attach this to the NOREP you return back to the school district.

What is the Mediation process like in Pennsylvania?


Once you file the mediation complaint, ODR assigns a trained person called a mediator to lead your upcoming mediation session, usually within seven to ten days after your request is made. ODR mediators are contractors who are trained in mediation and who have knowledge and experience in special education. To learn more about PA’s ODR Mediators, see https://odr-pa.org/mediation/mediator-bios/.

Pendency is established

In June 2008, Pennsylvania modified its state regulations to incorporate pendent placement (stay-put status) for a child during mediation proceedings. This basically means that if a parent files for mediation within 10 days of receiving the school district’s Notice of Recommended Educational Placement (NOREP), then the service(s) or placement that was in effect prior to filing for mediation will stay in effect until the mediation takes place. For more information on how mediation impacts pendency, see https://odr-pa.org/mediation/pendency/


The cost of mediation provided by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is covered by your tax dollars.  There is no additional charge.

What can I expect to happen during mediation?

After you file for mediation, ODR will send you an online form to complete.  That form asks you whether you prefer an in-person or a Zoom setting for mediation. After you complete the form and provide time(s) of your availability, you will meet with the school district on a mutually agreed date and time.

You have the option to invite other people to attend mediation with you. You can bring a friend, a medical or mental health provider who works with your child, an advocate, or an attorney. If you bring an attorney, then the school district may also bring an attorney.  If you do not bring an attorney to mediation, then the school district cannot bring an attorney either. 

ODR offers two types of mediation: facilitative and evaluative.

  • In facilitative, the mediator plays a more hands-off role and will facilitate discussion between the parent and the school district about differing viewpoints.
  • In evaluative, the mediator will play a more involved role, by facilitating questions and brainstorming solutions.

To read more about the differences, see this link, https://odr-pa.org/types-of-mediation/

If you are attending virtually, all parties will meet in one room at the beginning to talk and express viewpoints. Then, the parties will break out into different virtual rooms and the mediator will go between the rooms to facilitate discussion and compromise. The same scenario will take place in person if the parties choose to meet in person.

*Of note, everything said during mediation is considered confidential. Anything you or the District say during mediation cannot be used in future special education hearings or court cases.  If, however, you reach an agreement in mediation, that agreement is not considered confidential. That agreement is instead written down and signed by both the school district and the parent. If the school doesn’t follow through on the agreement, additional action can be taken to enforce the agreement in court or through other special education dispute resolution processes. 

For more information on the mediation process, see ODR’s Guide to Special Education Mediation, available in multiple languages, at https://odr-pa.org/mediation/.

How can we help?

Obtaining appropriate services and support for your child can be daunting, especially if you are pursuing mediation or another form of alternative dispute resolution. The law firm of Raffaele & Associates is dedicated to serving the legal needs of students, children, and families in Pennsylvania. Our trusted team, which includes attorneys, an education consultant, and staff, provides skilled, thoughtful representation for your case.

We have experience helping families like yours through mediation.  We can help you by filing for mediation, preparing for mediation, and attending mediation with you. Alternatively, we can walk you through the steps of mediation behind the scenes without attending if you feel you could benefit from additional support.

If you would like to get in touch with us, please contact us here. We look forward to speaking with you.

The information within this article is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. Please consult an attorney for individual advice regarding your personal situation.


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