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This article is about about handling mediations and negotiations. These ideas are based on my experience in federal court class action sex discrimination in employment suits, administrative sex and race discrimination proceedings, and special education proceedings of all kinds.
Many years ago, the Harvard Business School did a study on negotiation outcomes. Their rules for winning were:
There are many reasons why a school district comes to a mediation:
also the reasons why you may be there.
Dealing with Junk Tactics
many defendants and school districts attorneys believe that
if they use intimidation to win in the beginning, they can avoid the proceeding
entirely. Mediations can be misused for this purpose.
good, old fashioned do it right back response -- the old Mutt
and Jeff routine.
Bring a bunch of tiny wind-up toys in a pocket. When tension is high and it looks like someone might throw a punch at someone else, throw the toys on the table, wind them up, and tell everyone that the toys are theirs for the taking. Youll be surprised at what a bunch of adults will do when faced with a batch of little moving toys. Mini slinkys are good, too.
Know Your Lines
The other side has probably worked out roles to play well in advance. You should do this too. Mutt and Jeff is good. Rehearse.
and write down cue lines that tell whomever is with you that they should
come in with a pre-rehearsed comment, suggestion or statement. Of course,
your follow-up is also pre-rehearsed and youve got it down pat.
This may be something like, Oh, by the way, Ive never been able to find the research documenting your program, methodology, etc. What is it?
You can come up with some good lines that will always get the schools team off balance.
How much progress do your classified students make in reading every year?
How many disabled students graduate with _________ (college prep.) diplomas every year in your district?
Well, we know the feds require that districts have outside, independent evaluations of their Title I programs every year. So, how much progress do kids in your Title I program make every year in reading and math?
How many disabled kids do you declassify each year?
If the districts lawyer has lost a noteworthy case lately, be sure to ask about it.
If the districts budget is in trouble, ask whether they expect special ed parents to support the budget and why.
Ask about a proposed bond issue for new construction and whether there was community support for the bond.
If relevant, ask if their sped folks are still practicing medicine without a license. Point out that Connecticut just barred school staff from recommending that parents have their kids put on Ritalin. Ask if their insurer has told them about this practice.
not suggesting that you really do this, but you will feel better knowing
that you can if things get too tough or too nasty.
Know What You Want
Of course, youve worked out your list of:
If the other side demands to know why you want something, you may say, Well, if you want to get technical, we should do it in a hearing -- so you avoid giving away important information.
Points to Consider
1. You can ask for things in a mediation that you cannot get or would not be entitled to in a hearing.
For example you can ask that a specific outside person be appointed as a binding decision-maker for the next year when the parties cannot agree on something (if there is a cost, this would be at districts expense). You may ask the district to pay for a specific person to do something for the child, in or out of school.
2. Whatever the cost to you, there is always a cost to the other side in litigating. This cost may (or may not) be much, much higher than yours.
3. If necessary, you can say things in mediations that arent true but may make the other side believe that youre going to cost them a fortune. For example, Well, Ive got five experts who think otherwise. But we can deal with that in the proper arena.
4. If you have a real control freak on the other side (sped. administrator, superintendent . . . ) and it is unlikely that settlement will solve the real problem, ask for specific protections against retaliation and harassment in any settlement you work out, with financial penalties for violations and an outside independent person to decide the issue without having to go through another mediation and hearing. You may also consider asking that someone other than the control freak be appointed to handle your child's special ed issues in the future, without any intervention from the control freak, whoever it is.
5. Dont be afraid. Nothing that happens in a mediation is binding. You can make every mistake in the book and make the other side think that theyre going to walk all over you in a hearing learn from your mistake(s), do everything completely differently in a hearing, and blow them away. In fact, if you dont think mediation will work, you may consider doing this intentionally coming on like a turkey who knows zip, then give the other side a very unpleasant surprise in the actual formal proceeding.
6. When you cant sleep the night before and have more doubts than Swiss cheese has holes, remember the words of Hillel:
If not you, who? If not now, when?
Go for it!
About Dee Alpert, Esq.
Dee Estelle Alpert, Esq., is a New York City-based attorney who handles cases throughout New York State. She has acted as consulting counsel in special education cases nationally. She is also a hearing officer certified by the New York State Education Department.
Dee began looking at special education law when her son was five and was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome. Fortunately, his disability was mild. Later, Dee was the first parent to secure a Section 504 Plan at New York City's Stuyvesant High School.
During a 12-day impartial hearing for a family, Dee decided that attorneys with litigation skills take special education cases to protect parents and children from a system that seemed designed to deprive them of their most basic rights and dignity.
Dee is focusing on systemic special education and education issues and
tactics, including various inquiries into special education and public
school district financial and related corruption. She works with a retired
Professor of Education Finance, and has provided consultation to various
New York prosecutors and politicians.
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