DISPUTE RESOLUTION FOR STUDENTS WITH EXCEPTIONALITIES

The Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) created and designed its special education dispute resolution system to protect the education rights of all children with exceptionalities within our state and help parents and public agencies resolve special education related disputes.  The LDOE is committed to assisting parents and school districts in their efforts to resolve exceptionality related disagreements in the least adversarial manner possible.  Therefore, the LDOE strongly encourages parents, their advocates and attorneys, or other concerned individuals to first contact their school district’s or charter school’s special education director or supervisor before utilizing any of the state-level exceptionality dispute resolution options.

The LDOE offers several exceptionality dispute resolution options to help resolve disagreements concerning issues related to providing a student with a disability a free appropriate public education (FAPE), including but not limited to issues involving evaluations, eligibility, placement, related services, and implementation.  The LDOE offers these dispute resolution options at no cost to parents or school districts/charter schools. Our PDF-fillable request forms for LDOE IEP Facilitation, Mediation, Formal Complaint Investigation, and Due Process Hearings are available by using the links on the right hand side of this page and are also in the LDOE’s on-line document library.

INFORMAL COMPLAINTS/EARLY RESOLUTION PROCESS

Parents of students with disabilities may file Informal Complaints. It is the simplest, swiftest, least adversarial, and most direct exceptionality dispute resolution option. The Informal Complaint/Early Resolution Process (ERP) is based on the traditional, community-centered model where parents and school districts work collaboratively and cooperatively to achieve a common goal—to meet the educational needs of students with exceptionalities.

Parents should send their written Informal Complaints directly to their school district or charter school ERP Representative.  If you cannot determine who that person is, parents may sent an Informal Complaint to the LDOE by email at SpecialEducation@la.gov.

When Parents send an Informal Complaint to the LDOE, the LDOE's Intake Coordinator(s) will forward the Informal Complaint to the school district or charter school ERP representative, immediately if possible, but no later than two calendar days after receiving the Informal Complaint.

Within 15 days after filing an Informal Complaint, the parents and the school district shall either sign a written resolution agreement or an agreement to extend the resolution period. If the participants do not sign a resolution or extension agreement, the school district's ERP Representative must provide the parents with information about the LDOE’s Exceptionality Dispute Resolution options, acknowledged by written receipt.  

IEP FACILITATION

IEP Facilitation is an exceptionality dispute resolution option available to both parents and school districts. An LDOE IEP Facilitator is a specially trained, neutral, third-party who helps when parents and school district staff are having difficulties communicating with one another about how to meet the special education needs of the student.  The IEP Facilitator assists by creating an orderly atmosphere for open communication that helps the IEP Team participants to navigate drafting an IEP for the student successfully. The LDOE provides this service at no cost to the parents or the school district. Either the parents or the school district/charter school can submit an IEP Facilitation Request; however, the process is voluntary and both sides must agree to participate. Parents or school districts can initiate the process by sending an IEP Facilitation Request Form to the Legal Division.  Please send your IEP Facilitation Request Form to the LDOE by email: DisputeResolution.DOE@la.gov; by mail to Louisiana Department of Education, Attention: Legal Division, P.O. Box 94064, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70804-9064; or by fax to (225) 342-1197.

MEDIATION

Mediation is available to help resolve disagreements between parents and the public education agencies concerning the identification, evaluation, placement, services, or providing FAPE to a student with an exceptionality.  Parents or school districts/charter schools may file a Mediation Request at any time, including before, at the same time as, or after filing a Due Process Hearing or Formal Complaint Request. Requesting mediation will not prejudice or prevent a Due Process Hearing or Formal Complaint from proceeding, and participating in mediation will not impair or waive any other rights available to parents or students.  

Mediation is one of our less adversarial and uncomplicated alternative dispute methods. The mediation process creates a structured environment for open communication, and with the help of an impartial LDOE attorney-mediator who is trained in effective mediation techniques and knows special education law, it can successfully and promptly resolve disagreements between parents and school districts. Mediation is a voluntary process, and all parties must agree to participate in the mediation. The LDOE schedules mediation sessions on a date, time, and in a virtual format or at a location that is convenient to and mutually agreed upon by the participants. The LDOE provides its special education mediation services at no cost to parents and school districts. To begin the mediation process, a parent or school district must send a Special Education Mediation Request to LDOE’s Legal Division. The Legal Division will assign the request to one of its impartial attorney-mediators who will contact the participants, confirm the mediation session date, time and location, and answer any questions about the mediation process.

An LDOE attorney-mediator does not represent any of the participants, provide legal advice, or make decisions; instead, the attorney-mediator facilitates discussions, participant decision-making, and helping the participants reach a compromise. The discussions during a mediation session are confidential and mediation participants may not use them as evidence in any subsequent due process hearings or civil court proceedings. The participants are customarily asked to sign a mediation confidentiality agreement that confirms in writing that all discussions during the mediation are confidential and cannot be used as evidence in a Due Process Hearing or civil court proceeding. If the mediation process results in a full or partial resolution, the attorney-mediator will prepare a written mediation agreement that both parties must sign. The signed mediation agreement is legally binding on both parties and enforceable in a court of competent jurisdiction.

Please send your Mediation Request Form to LDOE by email: DisputeResolution.DOE@la.gov; by mail to Louisiana Department of Education, Attention: Legal Division, P.O. Box 94064, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70804-9064; or by fax to (225) 342-1197.

FORMAL COMPLAINT INVESTIGATION

The LDOE developed Formal Complaint procedures under its supervisory jurisdiction and authority to investigate allegations that a school district, charter school or public education agency is violating a requirement of Part B of the IDEA, the LDOE’s IDEA implementing regulations, or our Children with Exceptionalities laws. Any parent, adult student, individual, or organization may file a written, signed Formal Complaint and send it to the LDOE by email, U.S. mail, facsimile, or TDD. The party filing the Formal Complaint must also send a copy to the school district/charter school or public agency serving the student at the same time the party files the Formal Complaint with the LDOE.

Formal Complaints must be in writing, signed, and sent to the LDOE. Although requesters are not required to use the LDOE Formal Complaint Investigation Request Form, the LDOE strongly encourages requesters to use the form or at least refer to it while drafting a Formal Complaint. The Formal Complaint investigation is strictly limited to allegations involving exceptionality-related violations that occurred within one year before the date that the LDOE received the Formal Complaint. Before the complaint investigation begins, the LDOE will also forward a copy of the Formal Complaint Request to the school district/charter school to provide the parties an opportunity for direct, local-level resolution using the ERP.

Since the Formal Complaint is an investigative process and one of the more adversarial dispute resolution options, the LDOE’s strongly encourages parents and school districts/charter schools to attempt to resolve the dispute during the ERP or alternatively by using IEP Facilitation or Mediation. Unless the parties agree to an extension, after the 15-day ERP period expires the assigned LDOE Complaint Investigator will review the Formal Complaint. The public education agency is required to provide a written response and any supporting information to the Complaint Investigator. The complainant will have an opportunity to provide additional information to the LDOE either in writing or orally during the course of the investigation. Parents and school districts should also prepare and submit an Exhibit List that itemizes all relevant investigation documents/exhibits they would like the LDOE Complaint Investigator to consider. Depending upon the nature of the complaint, the LDOE Complaint Investigator has the authority to independently decide to whether interviews are necessary or to conduct an on-site visit.

Unless the parties request an extension to attempt to resolve the dispute using ERP or an alternative resolution option, the LDOE Complaint Investigator has 45 days after the end of the initial 15-day ERP period or, if ERP is waived, 60 days after LDOE receives the Formal Complaint Investigation Request to issue written findings-decision to all parties on each of the exceptionality-related allegations in the Formal Complaint.

During the investigative period, the LDOE Complaint Investigator will review all relevant information, make a written factual finding and legal determination whether public education agency violated a requirement of applicable Federal law, State statues, or LDOE regulations, and send it to the parties.

Please send your Formal Complaint Investigation Request to LDOE by email: DisputeResolution.DOE@la.gov; by mail to Louisiana Department of Education, Attention: Legal Division, P.O. Box 94064, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70804-9064, or by fax to (225) 342-1197. The LDOE does accept signed Formal Complaints sent by email. Formal Complaints delivered via email after 4:30 p.m. will be considered received on the next business day—state holidays/closures excluded. PDF format is preferred and sending photographs of the Formal Complaint may result in processing delays or require resubmission.

Due Process Hearing

Only the parents of a child with an exceptionality, an attorney representing the parents or child, or a school district/charter school may file a Due Process Hearing Request. It is the LDOE’s most adversarial exceptionality dispute resolution option. A Due Process Hearing is a formal, court-like proceeding where parties present evidence to an independent, administrative law judge (ALJ) to resolve disputes between the parents of a child with an exceptionality and the school district. The hearing is limited to issues involving the identification, evaluation, eligibility, placement, and providing FAPE to a student with an exceptionality. 504/ADA disability discrimination complaints are generally beyond the ALJ’s legal jurisdiction; however, the assigned ALJ will make a legal determination. 504/ADA disputes can be addressed using the school district/charter school grievance procedures or sent to the USDOE Office for Civil Rights-Dallas Office.

All Due Process Hearing Requests must: 1) be in writing; 2) include the requester’s name, address, and telephone number; 3) provide the child’s name and address (if different); 4) state the school district or charter school the child attends or is a resident of; 5) include a statement describing the reason(s) for the hearing request that explains the problem(s) and provides the facts; and, 6) propose a resolution. Although requesters are not required to use the Due Process Hearing Request Form, the LDOE strongly encourages requesters to use the form or at least refer to it while drafting a Due Process Hearing Request.

The LDOE may not officially accept and process a Due Process Hearing Request unless it contains all of the information listed above.  The requester must also send a copy of the Due Process Hearing Request to the responding school district/charter school. After the LDOE receives a completed Due Process Hearing Request, the Legal Division will acknowledge receipt and forward the request to the Division of Administrative Law (DAL), an independent state agency that conducts Due Process Hearings for the LDOE.  The DAL will assign an ALJ to the request and provide the assigned ALJ a copy of the hearing request. Otherwise, the Due Process Hearing Request remains confidential. The DAL’s ALJ will coordinate and schedule a prehearing conference with the parties to discuss the hearing process, review the issues, and establish a schedule for activities related to the hearing.

Please send Due Process Hearing Requests to LDOE by email: DisputeResolution.DOE@la.gov; by mail to Louisiana Department of Education, Attention: Legal Division, P.O. Box 94064, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70804-9064; or by fax to (225) 342-1197. The LDOE does accept signed Due Process Hearing Request sent by email. The LDOE will consider Due Process Hearing Requests delivered via email after 4:30 p.m. as received on the next business day—state holidays/closures excluded. PDF format is preferred and sending photograph copies may result in filing delays or require resubmission.

Due Process Hearing: RESOLUTION MEETING & TIMELINE

If the parents file a Due Process Hearing Request, the school district/charter school is required to attempt to convene a Resolution Meeting within 15-calendar days after receiving a request from the LDOE.  If the parents and the school district have not resolved the dispute within 30-calendar days after receiving the hearing request or agreeing to an extension, the ALJ can schedule the Due Process Hearing.  After the 30-calendar day resolution period expires, the 45-calendar day timeline for the ALJ to issue a final written decision begins. The parents and the school district may agree in writing to waive the Resolution Meeting or to use Mediation or an alternative dispute resolution option instead of conducting a Resolution Meeting.  If the parties waived the resolution meeting or use Mediation, the 45-calendar day timeline to complete the hearing begins on the waiver date or after Mediation.

DUE PROCESS HEARING PROCEDURES

Requesters must file a Due Process Hearing Request within one year of the date that the alleged action(s) included in the hearing request were known or should have been known. This one-year limit may not apply if the school district/charter school misrepresented to the parents that it had resolved the problem or if the school district/charter school withheld pertinent information from the parents that it was required to provide under the IDEA, our Children with Exceptionalities laws, or LDOE’s implementation regulations.

The parties cannot raise issues at the hearing that were not included in the written hearing request, unless the other parties agree to allow an amendment to include those additional issues. Parties should notify the assigned ALJ of their intent to amend a Due Process Hearing Request.

Both parties have the right to:

  • be represented by an attorney licensed or officially authorized to practice law in Louisiana;
  • be accompanied and advised by individuals with special education training and knowledge or the unique problems of students with disabilities;
  • confront, cross-examine, and compel witnesses to attend the hearing;
  • present, exclude, and prohibit the introduction of any evidence at the hearing that was not disclosed at least five business days before the hearing or as ordered by the assigned ALJ;
  • sequester or separate the witnesses so that they do not hear other witnesses’ testimony before testifying; and,
  • an interpreter or other reasonable accommodations, if necessary.

The parents also have the right to:

  • decide whether the child who is the subject of the hearing will attend and participate in the hearing; and
  • obtain, at no cost to the parent, a written or an electronic verbatim transcript of the hearing, as well as a written or electronic copy of the ALJ’s written decision that includes factual findings, conclusions of law, and orders.

Before the Due Process Hearing is held, the parents are entitled to request a copy of the child's educational record, including all tests and reports that are basis of the school district’s/charter school’s proposed action or refusal. In addition, at least five business days before the date of the hearing the parents and the school district must disclose to each other the evaluations each intends to use in the hearing. Specifically the parties must exchange copies of all evaluations and any recommendations based on those evaluations by that deadline. If the parents or school district fails to make these disclosures on time, the ALJ may prevent that evidence from being used or introduced for the hearing. Both parties are required to inform the ALJ and each other if an evaluation is underway and but not been completed. Parents and school districts should also prepare and submit an Exhibit List that itemizes all relevant investigation documents/exhibits they would like the ALJ to consider. The LDOE is responsible for the costs of conducting the hearing.  Both parties are responsible for the costs of their participation in the hearing (e.g., subpoena costs, and witness charges, attorney's fees, copying documents, etc.).

The assigned ALJ shall determine the relevant facts, make decisions on substantive grounds, and determine whether the school district/charter school provided the child with FAPE. If the hearing request includes or is based on alleged procedural violations, the ALJ may find that the child did not receive a free appropriate public education only after finding that the procedural violations occurred and the violations:

  • 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;
  • deprived the child of educational benefits; or
  • any other applicable legal determination available under IDEA laws or LDOE regulations.

As part of the written findings and decision, the ALJ may order the school district/charter school to comply with the IDEA or LDOE procedural requirements, issue corrective actions, award compensatory education and other forms of just, equitable relief permitted by law or jurisprudence.

The ALJ must conduct the hearing and mail the parents and the school district a written decision within 45-calendar days after the end of the resolution period.  If the ALJ grants a continuance request or a specific extension of time from the parents or the school district, the ALJ may also extended 45-day timeline.

The ALJ's decision is final. The parents or the school district/charter school must implement any orders in the decision unless a party files a civil action in a State or Federal court of competent jurisdiction within 90 days after receiving the ALJ’s decision. As required by the IDEA, the LDOE makes copies of written, final Due Process Hearing decisions available to the public on its website.