The number of families involved in disputes with their school districts over special education services is back up after a lull.

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, there are three main ways to resolve disagreements that arise related to a child’s special education services: written state complaints, mediation and due process complaints.

New data from The Center for Appropriate Dispute Resolution in Special Education, or CADRE, a federally-funded center that works to help prevent and resolve disputes between school districts and families, shows that there was a notable drop in written complaints and mediation requests between the 2019-2020 school year and 2020-2021 when the COVID-19 pandemic altered many school services. Those numbers rebounded to pre-pandemic levels by the 2021-2022 year.

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At the same time, however, due process complaints continued to trend up during the pandemic before marking a big spike, growing from 23,567 in 2020-2021 to 29,490 the following year.

Notably, CADRE said that 65% of due process complaints at that time were in New York. And, among the due process complaints filed, a substantial number were withdrawn, dismissed or resolved without a hearing.

When excluding the large number of due process complaints in New York, the data “generally reflect a return to the national mean after the disruption of the pandemic,” CADRE said.

In particular, the group noted that the increase in mediation requests nationally and the 70% agreement rate for mediations that do not involve due process are both positive signs. In addition, CADRE indicated that states are investing more in early conflict resolution activities.

“Well-designed, skillfully implemented, collaborative approaches, such as IEP facilitation and mediation, can mitigate the reliance on more adversarial and costly dispute resolution processes,” CADRE said. “Early dispute resolution options are generally cost-effective and more expedient than other processes and support the development of productive educator-family relationships.”

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