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Special Education: Pre-Litigation & Negotiation Mediation

Issue

When the parents of a special education student accused a paraprofessional of physically injuring her at school, how did the school district and the parents resolve the dispute and reestablish a positive and productive relationship?

What Happened?

The student, who hadmany severe and aggressive behaviors that were difficult to manage, was certified as emotionally impaired for special education entitlements.  One day, aspecial education classroom paraprofessional yanked the student’s arm while trying to help her and five other students enter the school bus. As a result, the student required treatment for a shoulder sprain and had a small contusion on her upper arm.  The paraprofessionalbelieved thatthe student was going to run away and that her safety was in jeopardy.  The student’s parents removed the student from the school, and threatened to file a lawsuit to recover damages for the physical injury and obtain reimbursement for private placement from the school district.

Special Considerations

  • The parents were irate and highly emotional about the incident, refusing to meet with the special education administrator
  • The paraprofessional had always been a stellar employee, and there had never been any previous complaints regarding the paraprofessional’s conduct
  • The special education classroom teacher indicated that the student needed more intensive support and hadconcerns about the student-to-adult ratio in the classroom

How did PREMi help?

The school district contacted PREMi requesting assistance in having the parents consider mediation as an option:

  • A PREMi representative contacted the parents to explain the mediation process and how they might benefit
  • The parents were further advised about the confidentiality of the proceedings and the opportunity they would be given to express their concerns andpotentially reach an expeditious, mutually agreeable resolution
  • Once the parents agreed to pursue mediation, PREMi provided both parties with biographical information regarding qualified professionals who could mediate the dispute

After PREMi worked with the parents and school district to agree upon a mediator:

  • The PREMi mediator spoke with each party prior to the conference date to get a better understanding of their needs and concerns
  • The PREMi mediator conducted apreliminary telephone conference during which bothparties identified the key participants, selected a convenient time and place for the mediation, and provided the parties with an outline suggesting ways for them to prepare
  • During the four-hour mediation, the PREMi mediator provided ample opportunity for the parties to share there positions and perspectives, identified issues for resolution, facilitated a brainstorming session to come up with of potential options, and prepared an agreement for the parties to memorialize their agreement
  • Once the parents agreed to pursue mediation, PREMi provided both parties with biographical information regarding qualified professionals who could mediate the dispute

What was the Outcome?

The PREMi mediator helped the parties regain trust in one another, address their problems jointly, and successfully resolve their dispute:

  • The school district agreed to have the paraprofessional attend a day-long non-violent crisis intervention training
  • The parties agreed to have an independent consultant conduct a functional behavioral assessment for the student and assist the school staff and parents to develop an individualized behavior intervention plan for the student
  • The school district agreed to add an additional paraprofessional to the special education classroom who would initially be assigned to the student for extra support and to collect behavioral documentation
  • The parents were invited to participate on a committee to review applications and interview prospective candidates for the new paraprofessional position

The student returned to school, the parents and school staff restored their collaborative relationship, and the parties avoided costly and prolonged litigation.

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Disclaimer: This summary is illustrative of the types of cases and the manner in which the PREMI associate dealt with the matter. Care has been taken to avoid disclosure of sensitive or confidential information.