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Guidance Document on Early Dispute Resolution

                                 Submitted by:

Colorado Special Education Advisory Committee



The Colorado Special Education Advisory Committee is staffed by the Colorado Department of Education.

For more information, contact David Ramer, 1560 Broadway, Suite 1175, Denver, CO 80202, 303-866-6943




In the spring of 2015, the Colorado Special Education Advisory Committee (CSEAC) gathered input from a wide base of constituent groups including families, educators and other agencies on the topic of Early Dispute Resolution (EDR). The following questions were used as a foundation for gathering input.

  1. What can be done throughout the school year and summer to help the Individualized Education Program (IEP) process go smoothly?
  2. When disagreements or conflicts arise over an IEP, what can be done to work through these to help resolve issues and maintain a positive relationship between families and the school?
  3. If there seems to be an issue that cannot be resolved, what else could be done to help families and schools avoid litigation?
  4. Do you have any other thoughts about improving the IEP process?

In addition, information on EDR from the Colorado Department of Education (CDE), PEAK Parent Center, Disability Law Colorado and various other resources was reviewed. After completing this collaborative process, the CSEAC offers the following considerations on the topic of EDR. This document is intended to provide ideas that will increase positive and collaborative relationships of IEP team members and to encourage teamwork that focuses on the student and the early resolution of any disputes.



Joint training for families, educators, administrators, service providers, support staff, advocates, and others who are interested in the following:

  • Legal foundation and requirements for IEPs.
  • “Back to School with an IEP” training for families and school employees.
  • The basics of federal and state special education law.
  • Parental rights, prior written authorization, dissenting IEP opinions, testing, extended school year, transition, dispute resolution, how to modify goals without a full IEP meeting, functional behavior assessment, functional behavior support plans, alternatives to calling the police, retention and special education, the role and place of doctor and private practitioner recommendations.
  • Collaborative decision making and positive communication.
  • How to write meaningful and effective IEP goals.
  • In order to reduce district costs, CDE may wish to create and maintain a current video or webinar library that families and team members could watch on special education topics like the ones above.
  • Teacher preparation and alternative licensing attainment to include training on all of the above.


Positive Relationships


  • Every team member should remain focused on the student and place student needs above all else.
  • Everyone should presume positive intent of all team members and remember that all team members care about the child.
  • Focus on the student’s goals and objectives, collect regular data on progress including both formal and informal assessments, then make evidence-based decisions as a team.
  • Value all team members and their knowledge and experience, including parents, family members, teachers, professional staff, administrators and support staff.
  • All IEP team members are encouraged to send information to the whole team at least one week before the IEP meeting. Include all reports, along with information about how to read and interpret them for parents. Parents and families are encouraged to send any reports or concerns at least one week before the IEP meeting so that school staff can consider them. When all IEP team members come to the meeting with the same knowledge and understanding of the student, they can all work together for the child.
  • Parents and families should be encouraged to bring other people to the IEP meeting who know their child, such as therapists, advocates, tutors and/or former teachers.
  • Districts may choose to create an IEP preparation packet for families. This could include a way to convey what concerns the parents have, what they think the child’s needs and goals should be, questions they have, resources parents can access, upcoming trainings they might want to attend, etc.
  • All IEP team members are encouraged to think of the whole child, not only what is on the IEP. Are there clubs that might include the student where she might thrive? Will the sports teams support this student as an athlete or manager? Are there peer programs to pair students with disabilities with general education students? Can you connect the child with other students who will eat lunch together? On the playground? At school dances and other after-school events? These things are not written in most IEPs, but when a child and his parents feel like they are valued and belong in a school, almost all obstacles can be overcome.
  • Send out a draft IEP and any testing results preferably two weeks in advance of the IEP meetings. Testing results should be discussed with parents. Include a layman’s guide to testing which explains testing and reporting – such as percentile rank, standard score, etc. Always include grade equivalents – parents understand these. Don’t spend most of the IEP meeting going over testing. When sending test results, include contact information for a representative from the school and encourage parents to call with any questions prior to the meeting. Relate the test results to the IEP.
  • Schedule IEP pre-meetings with individual team members and families to develop some draft goals and to discuss possible concerns.
  • Learn about and respect diverse cultures, races and family units.


Year-Round Communication


Before school starts, create and send to parents a packet outlining the IEP process for the upcoming year. Information in this document may include:

  • Case manager's name and contact information.
  • Special education bussing contact information, guidelines and schedule.
  • Date of last IEP meeting and date of upcoming IEP meeting, for example “before XX/XX/XXXX.”
  • Names and contact information of service providers who will work with the child, especially if this changes over the summer.
  • Information about any special education assessments in the upcoming year, including re-evaluations or special evaluations.
  • Information on any external evaluators (outside the teachers who work with the student).
  • Information about any assessments with which parents will be asked to assist (for instance, adaptive behavior or communication matrix).
  • Information about state testing, including dates and available accommodations.
  • Information about how progress reports will be provided (each service provider adds his own information to the document).
  • A general timeline for the IEP process (can use ballpark dates – “by mid-February"):
    • Mailing date of letters requesting permission to assess.
    • Assessment timeline.
    • Date when a draft copy of the IEP will be available for viewing.
    • Whom to contact with questions.


  • Helpful links to information about IEPs, including how to write goals and objectives, what best practices are, what the legal requirements for IEPs are, etc.
  • Information and links to other resources that might be helpful to parents, such as local and state Special Education Advisory Committees, PEAK Parent Center, Parent to Parent of Colorado, ARCs, Community Centered Boards, the CDE website, child advocates, mental health resources, individual disability groups (such as the Autism Society), websites (such as, and other online resources.
  • Information and links to district and other trainings for parents.
  • A copy of the district calendar (on paper, magnet or card) for quick reference.

Throughout the Year


  • Have the IEP team agree on a progress report format and how this will be shared with all members of the team (a back and forth book between the family and the school, daily text, weekly wiki, email, etc.). Base the progress report on tracking IEP goals. Team members, including parents, can share any concerns so that these might be addressed through the course of the year.
  • Send home weekly samples of work that the student has completed independently.
  • At the beginning of the school year and quarterly, create an IEP calendar that informs teachers and staff when meetings will be held, what is required of them and due dates for expected completion.
  • Establish regular communication procedures among general education teachers, special education teachers and professional staff to track progress on IEP goals and other academic, social and behavioral observations. Include regression recoupment data on IEP goals after breaks.
  • Send home materials to support the student in academic subjects that are on the grade level the child can understand and use.
  • Request that families keep the school up-to-date on what’s going on at home, how to provide this info and to whom it should be sent.
  • Inform parents and families of the process of determining whether their child qualifies for Extended School Year (ESY). Cooperate with parents and other community agencies to create an ESY plan that is individual and meaningful and will help the student make progress on her IEP goals.
  • Administrators should review the caseload of case managers, professional staff and support personnel prior to the beginning of the school year and throughout the year. Additional staff should be added as needed so that caseloads are manageable and student progress on IEP goals is not compromised due to inadequate time or staffing.
  • Administrators should provide special education staff with adequate time to progress monitor students and prepare IEP progress reports.
  • Administrators should be actively involved in IEPs and special education staff meetings.
  • The district should create guidelines and define expectations of the IEP process, provide mentoring and individual support to staff, and require formal training on policies, procedures and the mechanics of the IEP process for all professional and support staff. These trainings should be made available to parents; they are a good tool for building trust and rapport between families and schools.

The IEP Itself


  • Call the parents the week before the meeting and ask if they have any questions or concerns. Offer help in interpreting data or testing if needed.
  • Schools and families should let each other know who will be attending the IEP meeting.
  • Since goals are what guide the IEP for the year, dedicate as much time as possible to developing meaningful ones.
  • Establish and share meeting norms and expectations. Ask all team members to place phones on vibrate and to avoid using electronic devices except as needed to facilitate the IEP.
  • Send the meeting agenda to the parents along with the draft IEP; follow the agenda at the meeting.
  • Utilize a neutral facilitator to guide the IEP meeting when disagreements are experienced.
  • Document parent-expressed needs for the child and any concerns they might have.
  • Recognize that all team members may not come to agreement and make a formal record of the family’s dissenting opinion on the IEP.
  • Attach a resource page to all IEPs which includes information on the local and state SEACs, PEAK Parent Center, other parent groups, child advocates, mental health resources, Community Centered Boards, individual disability groups (such as the Autism Society), etc.
  • Assign someone – not the case manager – to take notes during the meeting.
  • Follow up with parents after the meeting.

Other Ideas to Help Schools and Families Avoid Litigation if IEP Issues Cannot be Resolved


  • Encourage parents and team members to make a list of the concerns they have and possible resolutions. Bring these to a meeting with the team and/or coordinator/director. Encourage parents to bring an advocate or other support. All concerns should be discussed with the intent of all team members collaborating to address concerns and to meet the child’s needs. After the meeting, document what the agreed-upon solutions are, why some specific solutions were disregarded and the next steps that will be taken. Agree on timelines for actions to be taken then follow up on progress to resolution.
  • Give parents resources for advocacy and encourage them to bring an advocate to help team members agree.
  • Follow facilitated IEP strategies and processes and employ a trained facilitator at the IEP meeting.
  • Utilize an impartial mediator upon which both the family and school have agreed.
  • Change the law to promote low-cost arbitration or other low-cost alternatives that would be binding for all parties.
  • Inform parents of options other than litigation, such as the ones above.
  • Districts should have a neutral special education mediator, such as a Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA).
  • Have trained paid CDE mediators with neutral backgrounds and work experience who can be utilized prior to litigation; assign them to geographic regions.
  • Maintain clear records and provide copies to parents.
  • Reach out to other families and other school or district employees for input or ideas to help resolve issues and create solutions to meet the needs of the child.
  • Encourage parents to bring an advocate or outside agency representative to meetings. Request all team members to write down and detail the conflict(s), reflecting on what is best for the student. Then change the “players.” The parents choose a representative (such as an advocate, case manager, other family member or friend). The school also selects a representative (such as an uninvolved teacher, staff member or administrator). The representatives meet separately to find a resolution, then they meet with their respective constituents to discuss the resolution. Finally, all parties reconvene.
  • One of the difficulties in many of the school districts in Colorado is that the teachers report to their school’s principal, whether they are general education teachers or special education teachers. The district’s director of exceptional student services has the responsibility for the welfare of the students with special needs, but does not have authority over the personnel providing services for those students. Principals should be trained in all aspects of special education: federal and state law, IEP processes, best practices for individualization and modification of instruction, etc. They should also understand the complex and time-consuming preparation, documentation and work load of special education teachers, professional staff and support staff. Manageable caseloads and adequate prep time should be supported.

The contents of this handout were funded in part by a grant from the Department of Education. However, those contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal Government.