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Dispute Resolution


What is Dispute Resolution?

There are different ways to prevent and address educational disputes. No single method works best in all situations. However, it is always best to resolve disputes at the earliest stages by those parties who are most involved in a child's education—namely the child's parents, school staff, and area education agency (AEA) staff. When parents, school staff, and AEA staff communicate and work together, usually problems can be worked out and an agreement can be reached that is in the best interest of the child. The following processes have each been established to help people resolve differences and come to an agreement that benefits the child.

What choices do you have?

The following table lists the ways disputes can be resolved. There are unique similarities and differences between the options. This table is intended to help parents and districts quickly understand the unique characteristics of each process when determining which option to pursue.

Dispute Resolution Process Comparison (October 2014)

Dispute Resolution Summary (October 2014)

Can you tell me more about these choices?

The following narratives provide additional information on the ways disputes can be resolved, violations investigated, and decisions made. Please note, these options are listed from "most parental input and control over the decision" to the least control. Please keep that in mind as you read through each explanation. Click on the “blue” title for more information.

AEA Mediation Process

This voluntary process uses a person trained in mediation to help resolve issues impartially and at the earliest level. Each AEA has a designated person who serves as a "AEA Mediator." This process may be requested when disagreements arise between school officials and parent over educational issues. Additional information is available through your local AEA.


This is a voluntary process designed to resolve disputes in the early stages of disagreement. An impartial mediator, who is assigned by the Iowa Department of Education, will help both parties come to a mutually agreeable solution. Mediation (formerly referred to as a "preappeal") is an option available either outside of a request for a due process hearing or after resolving disputes. When both parties reach an agreement, a legally binding agreement is written, and a "shepherd" is assigned to address any issues that may result during implementation of the agreement.

Due Process Hearings

A due process hearing is a formal event that occurs when disputes arise over a child's special education identification, evaluation, placement, or services. Attorneys are typically involved in this process. A due process hearing is presided over by an administrative law judge who is assigned by the Iowa Department of Education. A due process hearing occurs only after mediation and a resolution session have been offered to both parties. A due process hearing most closely resembles going to court. During the hearing, both sides present their case. Upon hearing both sides and reviewing the submitted information, the administrative law judge renders a decision. This decision is final unless the aggrieved party wants to take civil action by appealing the decision.

Formal Written Complaint

A formal written complaint process is different than the other previously mentioned processes. In this process, an individual or educational organization who believes a school district or AEA has violated a requirement of the Iowa Rules of Special Education may file a formal written complaint with the Iowa Department of Education. This complaint must be submitted in writing and must include a description of the problem as well as a proposed resolution to the problem. The state will then carry out an independent investigation and issue a finding within 60 calendar days of receiving the complaint. If the district is determined to be in violation of the law, the district will be required to develop and implement a corrective action plan that must be completed within one year.