Until recently, special education parent-school disputes in New Jersey were resolved using formal hearing procedures. Participant dissatisfaction with formal hearings has led to the use of an alternative form of dispute resolution, that is mediation.
The purpose of this study was to conduct a descriptive analysis of mediation and formal hearings to resolve parent-school disputes in special education which occurred between July 16, 1984 and July 15, 1985.
Results indicated that sixty-four percent of disputes which resulted in due process requests were resolved through mediation.
The most frequent issue for which due process procedures were requested was the appropriateness of the child's Individualized Education Program (IEP), especially placement. Parents were more frequently the petitioner.
Parents and school districts tended to prevail equally at hearings: parents tended to prevail when the parent was the petitioner and districts when the district was the petitioner. A significant relationship was found between which party prevails at a hearing and whether the party was represented by a lawyer.
The most frequent classification of students for whom due process procedures were requested was Emotionally Disturbed (ED). The most frequent age range of the students for whom disputes were resolved through mediation was 6 through 11 years, and 14 through 18 years for those cases which resulted in a hearing. Most requests for due process procedures came from middle socioeconomic status (SES) communities and from the northern region of New Jersey, the most densely populated area in the state. Most cases that resulted in hearings came from the central region. Requests for due process procedures from low SES communities more frequently involved the issue of IEP-program, while requests from high SES communities more frequently involved the issue of IEP-placement. Regardless of the SES of the community, parents more frequently requested due process procedures than districts. High SES districts and parents tended to prevail equally at hearings. A significant relationship was found between community SES and those cases resolved through mediation conferences versus formal hearing. Cases from high SES communities were resolved more frequently at hearings and cases from low SES communities were resolved more frequently at mediation conferences. (Abstract shortened with permission of author.)