Dispute Resolution

The special education dispute resolution system is designed to ensure that all students with disabilities are provided a free appropriate public education.  The Louisiana Department of Education (LDE) is committed to assisting schools and parents in their efforts to resolve disagreements in the least adversarial manner possible.  Therefore, the LDE encourages parents or other concerned individuals to first contact their school district’s director or supervisor of special education before utilizing the state-level dispute resolution processes.

The LDE has developed several processes, described below, for resolving disagreements about the provision of a free appropriate public education, payment for services obtained, or a child's eligibility, evaluation, level of services, or placement.  Forms for requesting any of the processes described below can be found in the LDE’s on-line document library.

IEP Facilitation

IEP facilitation is available to parents and school districts.  Typically, an IEP Facilitator is brought in when parents and school district staff are having difficulties communicating with one another regarding the needs of the student.  The IEP Facilitator assists in creating an atmosphere for fair communication and also oversees the successful drafting of an IEP for the student. Either the parent or the school district can request IEP facilitation; however, since the process is voluntary, both sides must agree to participate. The process can be initiated by request to the Legal Division, and the service is provided at no cost to the parent or the school district.

Informal Complaints/Early Resolution Process

Parents of children with disabilities may file informal complaints. The implementation of the informal complaint/Early Resolution Process (ERP) draws on the traditional model of parents and school districts working cooperatively in the educational interest of children to achieve their shared goals of meeting the educational needs of students with disabilities.

  • Informal complaints may be made to the LDE or directly to the school district.
  • Informal complaints made to the LDE shall only be made through the LDE's Intake Coordinator(s) who shall refer the complaint to the ERP representative of the school district immediately, if possible, but not later than two calendar days after receiving the complaint.
  • Within 15 days of filing an informal complaint, the parent and the school district shall sign a resolution agreement or an agreement in writing to extend the resolution period. If no resolution agreement or extension agreement is signed, the school district's ERP representative shall provide the parent with a description of the LDE’s Dispute Resolution Options, acknowledged by written receipt.

Formal Complaint Investigation

  • A parent, adult student, individual, or organization may file a signed written complaint by U.S. mail, facsimile, email, or TDD with the LDE.
  • Formal administrative complaints procedures are developed under the supervisory jurisdiction of the LDE to address allegations that a school district is violating a requirement of Part B of the IDEA.
  • Formal complaints must be written and signed. Unless the parties have already attempted informal early resolution on the same issues, the complaint will be forwarded to the school district for an opportunity for local level resolution through the ERP before complaint investigation.
  • The party filing the complaint shall forward a copy of the complaint to the school district or public agency serving the student at the same time the party files the complaint with the LDE.
  • The complaint must allege a violation that occurred not more than one year prior to the date that the complaint is received. The LDE will provide the school district an opportunity to respond to the complaint or recommend a proposal to resolve the complaint through the ERP or mediation.
  • Upon expiration of a 15-day resolution period, the complaint is reviewed, and the school district is required to provide a response and supporting information to the investigator. Depending upon the nature of the complaint, the LDE may conduct an on-site visit. The complainant is given the opportunity to provide additional information to the LDE either orally or in writing during the course of the investigation. All relevant information is reviewed, and a determination is made as to whether the school district is violating a requirement of applicable Federal or State statues, regulations, or standards.
  • The LDE has 60 days from receipt of the complaint or 45 days from the end of the ERP period to issue a written decision to all parties on each of the allegations in the complaint.

Mediation

Mediation is available to resolve a disagreement between parents and the school districts regarding the identification, evaluation, placement, services, or the provision of a FAPE to a child with a disability.  Parents or school districts may request mediation before, at the same time, or after requesting a due process hearing or complaint investigation. Requesting mediation will not prevent or delay a due process hearing or complaint investigation, and participating in mediation will not impair or waive any other rights of parents.  

Mediation is a method for discussing and resolving disagreements between parents and school districts with the help of an impartial third person who has been trained in effective mediation techniques. Mediation is a voluntary process, and all parties must agree to participate in order for the mediation session to occur. The mediation sessions are scheduled in a timely manner and held in a location that is convenient to the parties in the dispute. Mediation services are provided by the LDE at no cost to parents and school districts.

A mediator does not make decisions; instead, he or she facilitates discussion and decision-making. The discussions in a mediation session are confidential and may not be used as evidence in subsequent due process hearings or civil court proceedings. If the mediation process results in full or partial agreement, the mediator will prepare a written mediation agreement that must be signed by both parties. In addition to describing agreements made in the course of mediation, the mediation agreement will state that all discussions that occurred during the mediation are confidential and may not be used as evidence in a due process hearing or civil court proceeding. The signed agreement shall be legally binding on both parties and enforceable in a court of competent jurisdiction.

In order to initiate the process, a parent or school district must send a request for mediation to the Legal Division. The Legal Division will assign a mediator who will contact both parties to schedule a meeting at a convenient time and location. Mediation requests may be made by calling (225) 342-3572 or by sending written notice by fax to (225) 342-1197 or mailing written notice to the Louisiana Department of Education, P.O. Box 94064, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70804-9064, Attention: Legal Division.

Due Process Hearing

Only the parent of a child with a disability, an attorney representing the parent, or a school district may request a due process hearing regarding a student with a disability.  A due process hearing is a formal proceeding in which evidence is presented to an independent hearing officer to resolve a dispute between the parents of a child with a disability and the school district regarding the identification, evaluation, eligibility, or placement of or the provision of a free appropriate public education to a child with a disability.

A request for a due process hearing must be made within one year of the date that the alleged action forming the basis of the hearing request was known or should have been known. This one-year limit does not apply if the parents were prevented from requesting the hearing because the school district specifically misrepresented that it had resolved the problem or the school district withheld pertinent information from the parent that it was required to provide under the IDEA.

To request a due process hearing, parents or school districts must submit a signed, written request with the required information to the Louisiana Department of Education, Attention Legal Division, Post Office Box 94064, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70804-9064; the request must also be provided to the responding party. The written request must include the requestor’s name, address, and telephone number; the child’s name and address (if different); the name of the child’s resident school district and the school district the child attends; a statement of the reason for the hearing request, including a description of the problem and a statement of the facts relating to the problem; and a proposal for resolution to the problem,to the extent known.

A request for a due process hearing will not be processed unless it contains all of the information listed above.  Once a request for a hearing is received, the LDE will issue an acknowledgement of receipt and forward the request to the Division of Administrative Law, an independent state agency that conducts due process hearings for the LDE.  The Division of Administrative Law will assign an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) to the case, and he or she will be provided with a copy of the hearing request. Otherwise, the request remains confidential. The ALJ will then coordinate a prehearing conference to discuss the hearing process and establish a schedule for activities related to the hearing.

Resolution Meeting Process

The school district is required to convene a resolution meeting within 15 days of receipt of a request for a due process hearing.  If the parent and the school district have not resolved the due process complaint within 30 calendar days of receipt of the request, the due process hearing timeline begins.  The 45-calendar-day timeline for issuing a final decision begins at the expiration of the 30 calendar-day resolution period.  The parent and the school district may agree in writing to waive the resolution session or to use the mediation process instead of conducting a resolution meeting.  If the resolution session is waived, the 45 day hearing timeline begins on the date of the waiver.

Due Process Hearing Procedures

The parties will not be able to raise issues at the hearing that were not included in the hearing request, unless the other parties agree to allow the addition of new issues.

Both parties have the right to:

  • be accompanied and advised by legal counsel and by individuals with knowledge and training with respect to special education or the problems of students with disabilities;
  • present evidence, confront, cross-examine, and compel the attendance of any witnesses;
  • prohibit the introduction of any evidence at the hearing that has not been disclosed at least 5 business days prior to the hearing;
  • separate the witnesses so that they do not hear other witnesses’ testimony; and,
  • be provided with an interpreter, if appropriate.

The parent also has the right:

  • to decide whether the child who is the subject of the hearing will attend the hearing;
  • have the hearing opened or closed to the public; and,
  • obtain a written or an electronic verbatim transcript of the proceedings, as well as a written or electronic copy of the ALJ’s written decision, including findings of fact, conclusions, and orders without cost to the parent.

Before the hearing, the parent is entitled to a copy of the child's educational record, including all tests and reports upon which the school's proposed action is based. In addition, at least 5 business days before the date of the hearing, the parent and the school district must disclose to each other the evaluations each intends to use in the hearing. Specifically, copies of all evaluations and recommendations based on those evaluations must be exchanged by that deadline. If either the parent or the school district fails to make these disclosures on time, the hearing officer may bar the evidence from the hearing. If an evaluation is underway and has not been completed, it is necessary to inform each other and the independent hearing officer.

The decision of the hearing officer is made on substantive grounds based on a determination whether the school provided the child with a free appropriate public education. If the request for a hearing includes or is based on alleged procedural violations, the hearing officer may find that the child did not receive a free appropriate public education only if he or she finds that the procedural violations occurred and they:

  • impeded the child's right to a free appropriate public education;
  • significantly impeded the parent’s opportunity to participate in the decision-making process regarding the provision of free appropriate public education; or
  • deprived the child of educational benefits.

As part of his or her decision and order, the ALJ may order the school district to comply with the procedural requirements.

The independent hearing officer must conduct the hearing and mail the parent and the school district a written decision within 45 calendar days from the end of the resolution period.  The 45-day timeline may be extended if the independent hearing officer grants a request for a specific extension of time from the parent or the school district.

The independent hearing officer's decision is final, and the orders must be implemented unless the parent or the school district files a civil action in State or Federal court of competent jurisdiction within 90 days of receipt of the notification of the findings and decision of the hearing officer.

The LDE is responsible for the costs of conducting the hearing.  Both parties are responsible for the costs of their participation in the hearing (e.g., witness fees, attorney's fees, costs of copying documents, etc.).