Dispute resolution is a powerful process in resolving conflicts within Special Education. The best time to use this process is early in a dispute. It is my view that most teachers, heads of schools and the local authority want the best outcomes for every young person with a disability.
The best way to explain is to tell you a story.
A few years ago I was called out to a dispute involving a 13 year old boy (Jason-not his real name) his mother and his Head Teacher. The boy’s mother was very angry. By passing the Head Teacher, she had rung the central office of his educational authority threatening to take action in the disability tribunal over an incident where Jason had been locked alone in a classroom (accidentally) for a number of hours.
I read Jason’s student reports which included a recent one from a pediatrician that stated he had quite recently developed a type of sudden onset muscular dystrophy. The disease was affecting all of Jason’s muscular system. He had trouble walking, eating and completing any schoolwork.
I was able to make Jason’s mother comfortable to attend a meeting at the school to deal with her concern before launching into action through the tribunal. This meeting involved not just herself and the Head Teacher but also the teacher and teacher’s assistant involved in Jason’s education and also a genetic specialist who had treated Jason at the Children’s Hospital.
I led the meeting and gave all of the participants the chance to speak and to be heard. The Head Teacher apologised for the incident in which Jason had been locked in. Jason’s mother spoke about her anger and also her sadness around Jason’s illness.
Most importantly, Jason had a chance to be heard. He was upset at being left behind when moving around the school and he was upset about missing sport. But what really made him sad was that he had great ideas in his head and ‘he couldn’t get them out’.
I then led the meeting towards solutions and adjustments that everyone could work with at the school.
This is what the meeting came up with –
There was a no mobile phone policy during the school day. Jason was given an exception and now carries a mobile at all times.
A number of students in Jason’s class offered to act as Jason’s buddy helping with his bag and checking that he was not left behind.
Jason was given a laptop with voice activated software.
Funding was given to the school to buy a Wii. Jason could choose a different friend and play Wii tennis (his favourite) for sport each week in the library.
This is what I saw six weeks later –
Jason was sitting up straight and confident. He had started to write his own poetry. The mother was smiling and happily talking with the Head Teacher. The school staff were proud of the difference they had made to Jason’s schooling and were collaboratively planning the next special needs meeting.
Using a dispute resolution process early certainly made a difference to Jason. The cost of my input, the laptop, software and Wii was very modest. The creative thinking exercise that I facilitated had resulted in an outcome which would not have been achieved in a judicial/tribunal approach of time and averted the very real possibility of costly litigation.
If used properly and early dispute resolution has the power to transform conflict. It has the power to change the ‘hearts and minds’ of a group of people in dispute and this has to the best way forward for young people with disabilities.
I achieved an excellent result for Jason and his mother. Working with the team at Albert Square Mediation, I could do the same for your child or school.