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Wisconsin Special Education Mediaton System (WSEMS)


About Mediation|
Benefits of Mediation|
The Mediation Session


Mediation is a process to resolve disputes. It involves a neutral party, a mediator, who helps the parties in their discussions. The mediator may help the parties identify issues, clarify issues, or create options for resolution. Mediation generally concludes with a written agreement among the parties.

Mediation is a process that was used in many ancient civilizations to resolve disputes. In more modern times, mediation became popular in the late 1970s to resolve community disputes like the neighborhood's barking dog. In the 1980s and 1990s, mediation became increasingly popular to resolve environmental, corporate, and commercial disputes. It also often became an option offered by the courts that allowed parties to avoid lawsuits. As mediation became more commonly used, it was studied and found to generally save time and money, and to provide the the parties with a greater sense of satisfaction about the outcome of their dispute.

In 1997, when the United States Congress amended the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA), federal law required each state to develop a mediation system to offer to parents as an alternative to due process hearings and complaints. Wisconsin developed its system by calling together a group of stakeholders in the special education community, including, parents, teachers, school officials, attorneys, advocates, and experts on mediation. They worked for nine months to develop a Wisconsin law that describes the mediation system. The information on this website reflects current federal law (IDEA 2004) and Wisconsin law, Chapter 115.797.  

If you have more questions, go to Frequently Asked Questions and you may find the answer.


Economical Decisions

Mediation is generally less expensive than a lawsuit where people go to fair hearing or to court.

Rapid Settlements

In an era when it may take as long as a year to get a court date, and multiple years if a case is appealed, mediation often provides a more timely way of trying to resolve disputes. When parties want to get on with business or their lives, mediation may be desirable as a means of producing prompt results.

Mutually Satisfactory Outcomes

Parties are generally more satisfied with solutions that have been mutually agreed upon, as opposed to solutions that are ordered by a judge or hearing officer.

Durability of Agreements

Parties who have reached their own agreement in mediation are also generally more likely to follow through and comply with its terms than those whose resolution has been imposed by a judge or hearing officer.

If Disputes Happen In the Future

Since mediated settlements tend to hold up over time, if a later dispute results, the parties are more likely to use mediation again to resolve their differences rather than an adversarial approach.

Better Agreements

Mediated agreements are able to address both legal and non-legal issues. Mediated agreements often cover programming issues that are not covered by the law.

Greater Control of Outcome

Parties who negotiate their own settlements have more control over the outcome of their dispute.

Personal Empowerment

Mediation negotiations can provide a forum for learning about and exercising personal power or influence.

Preservation of an Ongoing Relationship or Termination of a Relationship in a More Amicable Way

Many disputes occur in the context of relationships that will continue over future years. A mediated settlement that addresses all parties' interests can often preserve a working relationship in ways that would not be possible in a win/lose decision-making procedure. Mediation can also make the termination of a relationship more amicable.

Workable and Realistic Decisions

Mediated agreements can include specially tailored procedures for how the decisions will be carried out. This fact often enhances the likelihood that parties will actually comply with the terms of the settlement.



Before We Start:

  • The session is held within 21 business days after the mediator is agreed upon by the participants, unless both parties agree to a longer timeframe.
  • The mediator works with the participants to find a convenient location, date, and time to meet. Mediations may be held in libraries, community centers, the school, school district offices, attorneys' offices, or other locations agreeable to the participants.
  • The mediator and the intake coordinator help the participants decide who else may be present at the session.

The Day Has Arrived:

  • Everyone sits around a table with the mediator in a relaxed, informal manner.
  • The mediator explains the Agreement to Mediate and then asks the parties to sign it.
  • The mediator explains the mediation process and the mediator's role.
  • The mediator asks each participant to explain why they are here and what they would like to see happen.
  • The mediator may ask questions to clarify, brainstorm, or create options.
  • There will be no audio, video or written record of the session.
  • Anyone may ask the mediator for a break at any time, or the mediator may decide to call for a break.
  • The length of the mediation session varies. The parties are asked to agree to a general schedule before the session begins. Sometimes more sessions are needed.
  • The parents and school district representatives work together to write down how they have decided to resolve their dispute. They both sign this written statement, which is called the mediation agreement. A participant may, at his or her own cost, have a lawyer review the agreement.

After the Session:

All participants and the mediator are asked to complete a survey about the session. The information is given anonymously and remains confidential. The survey helps WSEMS to measure how the mediation process is working.


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