The Wisconsin Special Education Mediation System (WSEMS) has been helping parents and schools resolve disputes about special education since 1996. The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (WDPI) contracts with the WSEMS to implement this statewide special education mediation system.
WHAT WE DO
WSEMS is responsible for:
- Maintaining, supporting, and improving the WSEMS to ensure statewide availability of a high quality system of mediation and facilitation to parents and educators for resolving disputes in special education.
- Coordinating case intake, screening, and referral.
- Explaining the process and benefits of mediation to parties.
- Providing training and technical support for the mediators.
- Modeling collaboration and promoting awareness about the WSEMS and early dispute resolution options.
- Offering training in Wisconsin and nationwide about WSEMS and the stakeholders’ based model, mediation and early conflict resolution for parents, schools and others.
- Developing awareness about mediation, the WSEMS, and early conflict resolution through dissemination of materials in English and Spanish.
- Maintaining this website at: http://www.wsems.us
- Collecting, evaluating, and disseminating data, including the identifying of trends and the effectiveness of the WSEMS.
WHO WE ARE
Jan Serak, Nissan Bar-Lev, Nina Meierding
WSEMS is managed by a unique partnership that represents a collaborative team: A special education director, a parent, and a mediator. The WSEMS team conducts outreach activities (training, WSEMS booths, etc.) to promote the WSEMS and the importance of resolving conflict at the earliest possible stage. The team also assists with development of system materials and models collaboration statewide. The partners have been active nationally on the topic of special education mediation. Each brings a unique expertise to the system.
Bar-Lev, Director of Special Education,
Cooperative Educational Service Agency # 7 (CESA #7)
- Jan Serak, Executive Co-Director,
Wisconsin Family Assistance Center for Education, Training & Support, Inc. (WI FACETS)
- Nina Meierding, Professor/Mediator/Trainer, Negotiation and Mediation Training Services
Jane Burns WSEMS Intake Coordinator/Administrator, Burns Mediation Services.
The neutrality of the person in this position is critical. Jane has no affiliation with the field of special education, parents, schools, or the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. Jane, a full-time WSEMS employee, is responsible for: coordinating intake of all cases into the system (talking with parents and school staff by telephone and explaining the process and benefits of mediation to parties), conducting a screening process, helping the parties select a mediator or facilitator, supporting the mediators or facilitators, and maintaining system data.
If you have additional questions about the system, please contact Jane Burns, WSEMS Intake Coordinator/Administrator, at 1-888-298-3857
- Nelsinia Ramos Wroblewski, WSEMS Latino Outreach Coordinator, WI FACETS
Nelsinia is the parent of a young daughter who has autism. She is the Co-Director of WI FACETS' Community Parent Resource Center grant, Statewide Latino Coordinator for WI FACETS' Parent Training and Information Center grant, and WSEMS Outreach Coordinator. she is also a member of the national IDEA Partnerships Dispute Resolution Training Team.
WSEMS maintains a roster of active neutrals (mediators/facilitators), all of whom are required by state law to attend a five-day introductory training and a one-day update training each year. The neutrals are located throughout Wisconsin, and also in Illinois and Minnesota. Three are bilingual in English and Spanish.
LIAISON WITH WISCONSIN DPI
Marge Resan is the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (WDPI) liaison to the Wisconsin Special Education Mediation System. In her role, Marge meets at least quarterly with WSEMS project partners to review the system's annual progress.
WSEMS was formally established in July 1996, but traces its origins to two of the founding partners, a parent and a special education director, who had seen the special education system from their own perspective. They were only too familiar with traditional methods used to resolve issues - complaints, due process hearings, and civil trials. They found these to be expensive, time-consuming, polarizing, adversarial, and often without satisfactory results to either side.
The partners' aspirations for a non-adversarial system, where parents and schools would be able to work out their own solutions, led to their writing a discretionary grant proposal to plan a mediation system in Wisconsin. In 1996, WSEMS convened an Advisory Council, facilitated by an experienced mediator, Eva Soeka, Director of the Marquette University Center for Dispute Resolution Education. The Advisory Council was comprised of representatives from key stakeholder agencies, including parents, schools, legislators, and attorneys. The Council helped develop legislative language for special education mediation in Wisconsin and continues to advise the system today.
Wisconsin Act 164, Chapter 115.797, was unanimously passed by both the assembly and senate and signed into law by Governor Thompson on December 19, 1997,establishing the Wisconsin Special Education Mediation System. In August 1998, WSEMS began full operation of the mediation system, as described in WDPI Information Update Bulletin 98.07.
While not required under state or federal law, WSEMS began a Facilitated IEP program in 2004, also funded with a discretionary grant from the WI Department of Public Instruction. The WSEMS Advisory Council supported this process,whereby parents and schools can request WSEMS roster neutrals to help facilitate IEP team meetings.
In 2005, WSEMS began providing information, training and materials about the process for the resolution meeting and how it relates to due process requests and mediation.
From August 17, 1998 through June 30, 2011:
- 1,077 requests were received for mediation.
- 754 cases went to a mediation session; 658 concluded with a full or partial agreement; 0 cases are still open. This is an 87% agreement rate.
87 % of Mediation Cases which "Went to Session" Reached Agreement
13 % of Mediation Cases which "Went to Session" Did Not Reach Agreement
- As a result of mediation, 127 due process requests and 2 individual lawsuits were dismissed; and 8 Office of Civil Rights complaints and 37 IDEA state complaints were withdrawn.
Based on national standards of settlement rates across case type, the WSEMS agreement rate of 87% is significantly above the 65-80% settlement rate range predicted for effective mediation systems.
WSEMS statistics and research are based on:
- All participants and the mediator are invited to complete surveys after the mediation session.
- A research methodologist analyzes the data.
- The data provides continuing feedback to the WSEMS as the effectiveness of the mediation process.
Since 2000, 1669 participant surveys and 575 mediator surveys were received and the results indicated:
- 81% of participants believed that mediation provided a satisfactory outcome
- 87% were satisfied with mediation process
- 89% said that would use mediation again
- 87% would use the same mediator again
- When one disability of the child was identified, the following categories were the most common: 33% emotional behavior disability, 27% autism, and 11% specific learning disability
Agreements are in writing and may be reviewed by a lawyer prior to signing. These agreements are contracts between the parties (signers) and should be as specific as possible regarding who, what, when, where and how the terms should be performed. If any party fails to follow through with the agreement, the parties can ask the system to reopen the mediation. In addition, when the agreement is prepared, the parties may include a provision that they will return to mediation if a dispute arises or there is a need for a need for clarification in their agreement. One benefit of the mediation process is to help the parties establish better communication. Sometimes issues that arise after mediation can be settled through direct contact between the parties, either in person or by telephone.
The WSEMS, as a neutral administrator of the mediation system, is not an enforcement agency. The parties must enforce the agreement they have signed. If the WSEMS were to accept one party's position that the agreement was not being enforced, the WSEMS would become an advocate for either parents or school districts. This could compromise the WSEMS' position as a neutral administrator. As a result, the WSEMS' role in the mediation concludes with an analysis of the surveys completed by the mediation participants following the session. Advocacy is the role of parents' organizations or school district personnel, and their attorneys and advocates.
IEP Facilitation Outcomes
The WSEMS began its IEP facilitation program in 2004. The WSEMS sought input from a large group of stakeholders in the special education community as to how to best implement the process.
A neutral, trained professional (a facilitator) helps the IEP team with the IEP process. The process may be used for any IEP team meeting, including initial, annual or reevaluation.
All participants, including the facilitator, are asked to complete surveys after the facilitated IEP meeting. A research methodologist analyzes the data which provides the WSEMS continuing feedback as to the effectiveness of the IEP facilitation process. Since April 2004, 823 surveys were received and the results indicated:
- 88% believed IEP facilitation provided a satisfactory IEP.
- 84% were satisfied with the facilitation process used at the IEP meeting.
- 84% would use the process again.