Lawyer Monthly - July 2022

Mediation Mediation is a process that uses a thirdparty neutral to facilitate negotiations between the students, their families and the schools. Special education mediators are trained in the mediation process and are experts in the special education field. Although the mediators do not make decisions during the mediation sessions, they are able to help all participants keep the focus on the student and gain a general understanding of the issues and interests that are causing disagreement. During the mediation sessions, mediators are able to help participants narrow issues, develop empathy, engage inmutual problemsolving and discover new options for resolution. Research has shown that reaching agreement through the mediation process is often faster and cheaper that traditional litigation and produces more satisfactory outcomes, as participants are able to work together to craft a unique resolution that addresses the unique needs of the student. Although mediation is a voluntary process that participants must agree to utilise, it does not require the participants to reach an agreement during the session, nor does it impede the participants’ ability to move forward with litigation. To encourage participants to attempt to resolve their issues through the use of mediation, many state education departments will offer to schedule a mediation with a specially trained mediator at no cost to the participants. Early Resolution Meetings Once litigation has been initiated, the school is required to invite the student and their family to a resolution meeting aimed at addressing the issues that will be argued at the due process hearing. While the law requires the school to extend the invitation, the student and school can agree to waive the resolution meeting. However, this presents an opportunity for productive discussion and settlement between the student, family, school and other relevant members of the IEP Team. If the IEP Team is able to reach an agreement on any of the issues, it is recorded in a written settlement agreement that is signed by the representative for the local school district, the Local Education Authority (LEA) and the student’s guardians and becomes binding after a short review period. While these meetings can result in a full settlement agreement, they can also be tremendously helpful in narrowing issues and clarifying interests, even if a settlement is not reached during the meeting. What are the challenges of winning a lawsuit against a school district? The most challenging aspect of winning a special education lawsuit against the school district is understanding the laws and policies that govern special education in your locality and selecting the right set of authority to advance your argument. Unlike any other practice areas, special education is regulated by federal laws, state laws and local school policy. Becausemost courts will view educators as the experts in education, it is critical to be able to thoroughly analyse any legal problem and understand the intersection and divergence of special education laws and policies and how to apply them to strengthen your legal theory. Due to the strict timelines imposed by special education legislation, the wrong decision can permanently prevent a successful outcome for a student, as there is often not a second chance at litigation. Another challenging aspect of winning a lawsuit against a school district deals with the relationship between the student, the student’s family, and the school. Because a student is able to receive special education services and supports through K-12, there is a strong likelihood that the student’s family and the administrators in the school district will have to work together for several years to develop and implement the student’s Individualised Education Program (IEP). A fractured relationship caused by mistrust and disrespect will often catapult the IEP Team into a cycle of contentious litigation that will ultimately impact the student’s education. As an attorney, being able to balance the need to advocate for a student’s rights and the need to foster healing between the IEP Team is a skill that few have mastered. While winning inside a courtroom can feel victorious, the best student advocacy focuses on winning the war, not just the battle. While winning inside a courtroom can feel victorious, the best student advocacy focuses on winning the war, not just the battle. Contact Nicole Hull Founder The Hull Firm LLC 3720 Atlanta Hwy Suite 3, Athens, GA 30606, United States Tel: +1 706-388-5330 E: JUL 2022 | WWW.LAWYER-MONTHLY.COM MY LEGAL LIFE - NICOLE HULL 21

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