In Massachusetts, the Bureau of Special Education Appeals not only conducts the important work of administrative hearings, they do two very important other things. They employ mediators who conduct both mediations and IEP meetings called “Facilitated Team Meetings“.
The mediators are impartials, there to help the parties come to an agreement (mediation) and work collaboratively (FTM). Both of these processes can be VERY worthwhile when a family is in a dispute with a district. However, both options are voluntary on the part of the school district AND parents.
For a mediation, the mediator always calls/contacts both parties for scheduling purposes.
In a few recent and disturbing cases, we have seen school districts ask for an FTM, apparently representing to the BSEA that the parents agreed to an FTM when in fact the parents have no idea what an FTM is or if they even have a choice to have an extra person (or two ) present.
Parents’s voices matter. They are supposed to have a voice in these decisions and should feel free to ask questions of a mediator at the BSEA, advocate, or attorney about what the two processes translate to in actual time and content. A district can’t force a parent to agree to a Facilitated Team Meeting, cancel an already scheduled IEP meeting, or threaten not to hold a meeting without it being an FTM. Those appear to be intimidation techniques.
Mediations and FTMs can be great tools; the BSEA employs some excellent mediators. Yet, these two processes are not for every family. Parents need to be asked if they agree to participate in a mediation or FTM before a district contacts the BSEA and speaks on behalf of the family. It’s worthwhile for the (understandably) busy and over-worked, dedicated BSEA staff to follow-up requests for FTMS with parents, as they do with districts.
It’s a reasonable goal to have parents be equally informed members of the IEP team. We aim to collaborate and find solutions which work for students with disabilities. Open the lines of communication and always, as a parent, feel free to call the mediator assigned to your district with any questions. They will answer them graciously. Be an informed consumer- it’s ok to ask questions.