In this article, I explore ways in which parents of children with disabilities can more effectively participate in educational decisionmaking and oversight. I begin by describing the federal special education statute, the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), as a set of procedural safeguards that are intended to result in meaningful educational benefit. IDEA's cornerstone is the individualized education program (IEP) for each child. The IEP, negotiated between school authorities and the child's family, is often an arduous and stressful process.
I first note the limitations of using litigation against local school districts as a tool to achieve aggregate or long-term positive outcomes or to resolve individual disputes about services, accommodations, placement and instructional interventions. I then offer practical guidance for individualized advocacy and problem solving that can be useful at the IEP meeting, as well as strategies for parent organizing and mobilizing, and formation of alliances outside the disability community. Finally, I suggest that mediation and other forms of alternative dispute resolution are more effective means of resolving disputes than due process hearings and litigation.
5 U.C. Davis J. Juv. L.& Pol'y 159 (2001).