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Dispute Resolution


Parents are a child’s best and longest-lasting advocates. Parents with good communication skills can be even more effective advocates for their children.

Disagreements and conflict within special education are normal—there will be conflicting interests, perspectives, positions, and views of the child. Most parents want what is “best” for their children while the school is only required to provide “appropriate services.” In addition, each person is a complex human being, and each school is part of a complex government agency. Effective communication can help bridge these gaps for the benefit of the child with a disability.

Sometimes parents think that things would work out if someone else would just stop doing a particular thing. However, one person cannot change another person.

Communication is like a mobile—when one part moves, the whole mobile must move. Likewise, when your approach, attitude, or responses change, the result may be a different and better outcome for your child.

Parental approaches, attitudes, and responses are choices. For example, if there is a situation that concerns you, you are free to make another choice of response. Sometimes it may seem like you have no choice, or you may feel forced to agree. However, this is almost never the case. While you can’t control all the situations of your life, you can control how you respond to those situations.

Parents sometimes may feel they are too shy, passive, aggressive, busy, anxious, uninformed, intimidated, overwhelmed, distrustful, protective. Each person has a right to their feelings. Ask yourself: “Will my feelings, thoughts, opinions, and the way I express them help my child receive what he or she needs? Am I being effective? Does this serve my goal or hurt it?

Parents and school staff do not need to be friends, but they do need an effective working relationship. Unless you move or someone changes his or her job, you may be working with many of the same people for a number of years.

First, gather information. Learn all you can about special education and your child’s disability. The more you know, the more you can communicate as an equal partner. PACER Center and disability groups can help build your knowledge base.

Second, think about your communication skills. This site contains some suggestions and techniques to help improve communication with school staff. You probably already use many of these suggestions and techniques, but others may be new ideas to consider. Do the best you can, and then learn more skills to do an even better job at your next opportunity.


Improve Parent-to-Professional Communication

PACER’s parent advocates often hear from parents when they encounter certain statements or situations at school meetings that they find uncomfortable or uncertain. These tips are suggestions and techniques from PACER advocates to help parents address some of those concerns, as well as improve communication with school staff.

Use Questions to Find Answers

As the parent of a child with disabilities, you are a valuable member of your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) team. These questions can help you gather information from others and be an effective member of the IEP team.

Tips for Talking with Your Child’s School

Do meetings at your child’s school run smoothly? Do you become concerned when the school doesn’t seem to hear what you are saying? Do you know the best way to ask questions? Are you asking the right person your questions? Are they able to provide clarification and answers?