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Dispute Resolution

Conciliation Conference

Minnesota parents must have an opportunity to meet with appropriate school district staff in at least one conciliation conference if the parents object to any proposal or refusal of which they are notified in a Prior Written Notice.

Parents Need to Know

  • Why request: If you disagree with a school district proposal or refusal in a Prior Written Notice (PWN) to initiate or change your child's identification, evaluation, or educational placement or the provision of a Free Appropriate Public Education to your child
  • How to request: Object to the PWN in writing within 14 days of the date the school district sent you the PWN and request a Conciliation Conference *
  • Who participates: A district representative with authority to make decisions that may resolve the disagreement, other appropriate school staff, parent, student (if appropriate), and others invited by the parent. If you've consulted with a PACER parent advocate prior to the meeting, you may request they attend.
  • Timeline: Held within 10 calendar days of the date the school district receives a parent's request for this meeting
  • Decision makers: Parents and school district staff
  • Outcome: Within five school days after the Conciliation Conference, the district must send you a written memorandum describing the final proposed offer of service and any proposed Individualized Education Program (IP) or evaluation plan resulting from the Conciliation Conference

* Note: Another option is to object to the PWN in writing within 14 days and request a meeting with appropriate members of the IEP team.

Comparison Chart of Minnesota Dispute Resolution Options:
Special Education Meetings

Conciliation Offers Families a Practical Way to Resolve Special Education Disputes

Jennifer was convinced that her 10-year-old son Brian needed the services of a one-to-one paraprofessional at school. Even though the requirement had been written into his Individualized Education Program (IEP), the school was not in compliance. When the situation went unresolved for months, Jennifer requested a conciliation conference as a means to resolve the issue.

Brian has severe autism and other disabilities. He is non-verbal, has self-injurious behaviors, and wears a helmet for his own safety. “My son has very few life skills,” says Jennifer, who was grieving the recent death of her husband while trying to secure accommodations for her son. “He needs the support of a one-to-one paraprofessional and the school kept trying to remove that from his IEP.”

Although Jennifer and Brian are pseudonyms used to protect the family’s privacy, their situation is very real. When parents of a child with a disability are unable to resolve a dispute with the school district over identification, evaluation, educational placement, or the provision of a free appropriate public education (FAPE), one available option under Minnesota law is a conciliation conference. At least one parent and a district staff person with authority to resolve the dispute (usually the special education director) must attend the conference. Other IEP team members may also be included. There is no cost to parents.

“PACER encourages families to try to resolve their differences by first sharing their concerns with their IEP case manager or the school district’s director of special education,” says PACER parent advocate Pat Anderson. “But if differences are not resolved at that level, the parent has several options including a conciliation conference.”

Once the school district receives notice of parental objection to its proposal or refusal of the district’s prior written notice, it has 10 calendar days to arrange a conciliation conference.

Jennifer admits she was anxious about the prospect of sitting across the table from school district personnel, but she worked closely with Anderson to prepare. “Pat was amazing,” says Jennifer, who also has an 8-yearold daughter with autism. “She helped me organize my information to present at the conference.”

The meeting went well. Once the conference is complete, the district has five business days to provide the parents with a Conciliation Conference Memorandum describing its proposed actions. In Jennifer’s case, the school district agreed to provide paraprofessional support for Brian and a new IEP was developed.

“I was just trying to get my son what he needs for a free appropriate public education,” Jennifer says. “If it wasn’t for PACER, I would not have known my rights. I was so frustrated at times but Pat was my voice when I couldn’t speak.

Checklist: Preparing for a Conciliation Conference

In Minnesota, if you receive a Prior Written Notice from the school district and you object in writing within 14 calendar days to what the district is proposing, one of your due process options is to request a conciliation conference to resolve your disagreement. A Prior Written Notice is a written explanation of any proposed or refused action to initiate or change the identification, evaluation, or education placement of a pupil, or the provision of FAPE (Free Appropriate Public Education).

Your child’s IEP team must hold your conciliation conference within 10 calendar days from the date the district receives your request, and at a time and place that is convenient for both you and the district. The entire IEP team is not required to attend, only appropriate district staff.

The following checklist will help you actively participate in your conciliation conference and engage with the school district to determine the appropriate way forward for your child.

Before your conciliation conference:

  • If you need assistance to prepare, contact PACER Center to speak to a parent advocate. You may request that a PACER advocate participate in your conciliation conference.
  • Think about what you specifically object to in the district’s proposal or refusal. Do you disagree with the district’s denial for a special education evaluation? Do you disagree with the annual goals and objectives? Are you concerned about the amount of special education and related services? Do you believe the IEP does not include accommodations you discussed with the IEP team and agreed were appropriate for your child at the IEP team meeting?
  • Consider making a list of your objections to the district’s proposal or refusal and the concerns that you want to resolve. Put your list in order so your strongest objections and your most important concerns are at the top. You may want to send your concerns to the IEP Case Manager before the meeting.
  • Gather documents that support your objections and concerns.
    These might include:
    • Your own notes or any notes you received from school staff from the last IEP team meeting
    • Emails, daily communication logs, incident reports, or your notes on phone calls from school staff
    • Samples of your child’s schoolwork or any records you keep at home related to your concerns, such as how many hours your child spends on schoolwork daily
    • Special education records including evaluation reports, current and previous IEPs, and progress reports
  • Read the Notice of Meeting to find out who is expected to attend. If you see an unfamiliar name, talk to the IEP Case Manager and ask about the person’s role in the meeting. If any school staff whose expertise you think is important to have at the table is not listed, talk to the IEP Case Manager and request they also be invited.
  • You may also invite someone to the meeting for support, such as a trusted person from your community who knows your child, a medical or mental health professional, or a racial equity and cultural representative. If you do so, it is important to notify the district before the meeting that they may attend.
  • If you have a transition-age youth (ninth grade or above), ask if they would like to participate and practice self-advocacy skills or just be available to answer questions and give input
  • Consult PACER resources related to your specific concerns about your child’s special education services and supports. If you are not sure where to start, talk to a PACER advocate to be connected to the resources that will help you prepare.

During your conciliation conference:

  • Arrive a few minutes early to choose a seat where you feel comfortable and organize your documents. If the meeting is held virtually, make sure there are no technical issues with your remote connection.
  • Bring a picture of your child that everyone can see, so the focus stays on the student and their unique educational needs
  • Before getting into the discussion, take a few moments to:
    • Consider requesting that an agenda be established so everyone is aware of the areas needing to be addressed
    • Ask how long everyone is available to meet, so you can monitor the clock and complete your list
    • Ask everyone to introduce themselves and explain the different roles they play in your child’s educational services
  • Engage. Focus the district on your concerns. Ask questions. Listen. Keep an open mind to all the options presented to resolve your disagreement.
  • Share your data and the documents that highlight your concerns. Request data from the district to help you understand the school’s perspective. Discuss if more data needs to be collected.
  • At the end of your meeting, take a few moments to:
    • Ask whoever led the meeting to review the main points that were discussed and any agreements reached. This will help you confirm the outcomes.
    • Review your list of objections and concerns. If any items were not discussed, ask how the district will address them moving forward.
    • Ask to review the next steps. What action steps are expected of district staff? What action steps are expected of you, the parent? It is important to leave with a clear and mutual understanding of what should happen following your conciliation conference.

After your conciliation conference:

  • Within five school days after the conciliation conference, the district must provide you with a conciliation conference memorandum that describes the district’s final proposed offer of service, along with any proposed IEP resulting from the conciliation conference. If you do not receive a conciliation conference memo within five school days, contact the IEP Case Manager or the district representative who led the meeting and request that it be sent.
  • When you receive the conciliation conference memo, read it carefully to be informed of the school district’s final proposed offer of service. If it does not reflect agreements you understood were reached with the school district at your meeting, or if you have questions about any part of the proposal, contact the IEP Case Manager or the district representative who led the meeting.
  • The district may send you additional documents, such as a Prior Written Notice, an IEP proposal, or a Prior Written Notice of Evaluation. Read these documents carefully and respond to any district proposal within the 14-calendar day deadline indicated on the Parental Consent/Objection form.
  • If you were not able to resolve your disagreement with the school district at your conciliation conference, there are other due process options you can use to advocate for your child. Contact a PACER Center advocate, your child’s special education staff, or the Minnesota Department of Education, Division of Compliance and Assistance for help in understanding your options.