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Special Education Advocacy: Dispute Resolution in Three Districts


Navigating the special education process in schools can be difficult. As families and districts work together to develop a student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP), conflict can arise. Unless collaborative discussions resolve conflict early, this conflict can escalate to the level of formal dispute and require informal or formal resolution. The law provides for avenues of formal resolution and some districts run internal “informal dispute resolution” (IDR) departments to resolve disputes with families early.

This case study dissertation utilized mixed-methods to answer: 1) Who engages in IDR? 2) How are special education IDR systems structured? And 3) How do districts perceive the IDR process? These research questions were answered by looking deeply at three districts’ IDR departments, including document review, statistical analysis, participant interview, and observation. Findings demonstrate there are similarities between the three districts and there are traits of IDR that should be considered by districts in implementing an in-district IDR department to ensure participation by all families, positive experience for participants, and successful outcomes for students.

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