When Schools and Families Do Not Agree

Productive, shared decision-making among families and school team members is an important factor in ensuring a free, appropriate public education (FAPE) for each child with a disability. 

Relationships and trust are the core of family-school partnership; differences in perspective and opinion among parents and professionals, within and beyond the evaluation and IEP process, are expected and valuable when productively managed.

School Family Partnership for FAPE

The Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) recognizes that shared decision-making can be challenging, and there are times when family and school team members do not reach agreement or when a student’s entitlements may come under question.

The RIDE Office of Student, Community and Academic Supports (OSCAS) offers several state level options to assist families and schools in resolving issues that remain even after those issues are reconsidered through local, informal dispute resolution.

Options may include the following as displayed in the school/family partnership for FAPE image: prevention / training; individual information/guidance; assistance with problem-solving; informal state facilitation; mediation; written state complaint; and/or due process hearing or resolution session.

If you need assistance with the option that is right for you, you are welcome to contact the:

RI Special Education Procedural Safeguards

Resolution Options

Federal and state laws and regulations* require that schools provide the parents of a child with a disability a full explanation of their rights in the special education process. 

*Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the RI Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education Regulations Governing the Education of Children with Disabilities.

These rights are described in writing in the RI Special Education Procedural Safeguards Notice, Model Form:

Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese and Arabic translations of the Rhode Island Special Education Procedural Safeguards may be accessed at this link.  

Special education state mediation is a voluntary, confidential and impartial process offered at no cost to parents and schools for resolving disagreements about a child’s special education evaluation, eligibility, or services. The special education mediator is an impartial facilitator appointed by the RIDE Office of Student, Community and Academic Supports (OSCAS), who is qualified to assist the parties in reaching an agreement by facilitating communication; identifying issues; helping the participants reach understanding; find common ground and consider solutions; and assisting the parent and school department in resolving the issues. The special education mediator does not take sides and does not make a decision on behalf of the parties.

Who can request special education mediation?

Parents/guardians, adult students, school district personnel and any interested person may request special education mediation. 

What issues can be mediated?

The special education mediation process can be used to address disputes related to the provision of a FAPE for a student with a disability.  

How can special education mediation be requested?

Requests for special education mediation may be made via telephone request by calling the OSCAS Special Education Call Center at (401) 222-8999 or by making an electronic written request by emailing RIDECallCenter@ride.ri.gov.


A special education state complaint is a signed, written statement alleging that a local school department or other public education agency violated a requirement of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) or Rhode Island Regulations Governing the Education of Children with Disabilities. A state complaint must be submitted in writing and must include certain required elements as described in RIDEs complaint procedures. The RIDE will carry out an investigation and issue a written Findings Letter within 60 calendar days of receiving the complaint (unless an extension is granted). If the school department or other public educational agency is determined to be in violation of special education laws regulations, it will be required to develop and implement a corrective action plan. The conclusions and corrective actions stipulated in the Findings Letter represent the final decision of the Rhode Island Department of Education.

Before deciding whether a written state complaint is the best option for addressing your special education issue, it is recommended that you review the Options and Resources brochure as well as the RIDE Special Education State Complaint Procedures here:

To assist you in including all required elements of a written complaint, a model form is available by clicking here:

An impartial due process hearing is an administrative special education proceeding in which the parent and school department present their respective cases to an impartial hearing officer, who makes a decision for the parties, rendered in writing. The hearing officers decision is final unless appealed through civil action in U.S. district court or a state court of competent jurisdiction.

Before deciding whether an impartial due process hearing is the best option for addressing your special education issue, it is recommended that you review the Options and Resources brochure as well as the RIDE Special Education Impartial Due Process Hearing Procedures here:

A request for a special education impartial due process hearing must be submitted in writing to the Office of Student, Community and Academic Supports and contain all required elements. To assist you in filing a request for a special education impartial due process hearing, the RIDE provides the following model form that includes the required elements as well as other helpful information.

To access the model form for requesting an impartial due process hearing click here:

El formulario que figura adelante le ayudar a solicitar una audiencia de debido proceso imparcial en materia de educación especial. Éste muestra ciertas informaciones necesarias y tiles para tramitar su solicitud. Para asegurarse de que esté empleando el procedimiento correcto para resolver su problema, por favor examine el folleto sobre opciones y recursos que aparece en esta página web. Para presentar su solicitud, por favor descargue el formulario para solicitud de audiencia de debido proceso, llénelo y por correo a la dirección que aparece al final del formulario. Si tiene alguna pregunta sobre las opciones con las que cuenta para resolver conflictos, por favor llámenos al (401) 222-8999. Formulario modelo para solicitar una audencia de debido proceso imparcial en materia de educacin especial 

O formulrio seguinte ajuda-o/a a solicitar uma audincia de processo imparcial do ensino especial. Mostra todos os dados necessrios e teis no processamento da sua solicitao. Para se certificar que est a utilizar o processo adequado para resolver a sua questo, consulte o documento Opes e Recursos neste website. Para submeter a sua solicitao, faa o download deste formulrio, preencha-o e envie o Pedido de Processo de Audincia para o endereo abaixo. Se necessitar de qualquer esclarecimento sobre as suas opes de resoluo de disputa, contate-nos atravs do telefone (401) 222-8999.

Formulrio modelo para Solicitao de Audincia de Processo Imparcial do Ensino Especial

RIDE provides information to the public regarding Dispute Resolution options exercised in each school district by year.

Please note that guides may be accessed in other languages by navigating the CADRE webpage for IDEA Dispute Resolution Parent Guides and Companion Videos. 

Related Resources

Parent organizations are available to assist parents with questions and build their knowledge about Special Education and related services. Parents who know their rights can effectively partner with the school team in making educational decisions about their child. The lead parent organizations in Rhode Island are the

  • Rhode Island Department of Education Legal Office
  • US Department of Education
  • US Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights:
    The regional Civil Rights office serving Rhode Island is:

    Boston Office
    Office for Civil Rights
    U.S. Department of Education
    33 Arch Street, Suite 900
    Boston, MA 02110-1491
    Telephone: 617-289-0111
    FAX: 617-289-0150; TDD: 877-521-2172
    Email: OCR.Boston@ed.gov

    Each public school district assigns an administrator to oversee its system of ensuring general education accommodations for students eligible under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Please contact your local Superintendent's Office to reach the 504 Coordinator for your district.

    Complaints regarding provision of general education accommodations under Section 504 for an eligible student may be directed to the Rhode Island Department of Education's Legal Office.
  • ADA Technical Assistance Centers
    The National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) has established ten regional centers to provide information, training, and technical assistance to employers, people with disabilities, and other entities with responsibilities under the ADA. The centers act as a "one-stop" central, comprehensive resource on ADA issues in employment, public services, public accommodations, and communications. Each center works closely with local business, disability, governmental, rehabilitation, and other professional networks to provide ADA information and assistance. For information contact 1-800-949-4232 (V/TTY).
  • Rhode Island Governor's Commission on Disabilities
    The Commission's objective is to ensure that all people with disabilities are afforded the opportunities to exercise all the rights and responsibilities accorded to citizens of this state and each person with a disability is able to reach his/her maximum potential in independence, human development, productivity and self-sufficiency.

    Governor's Commission on Disabilities
    John O. Pastore Center
    41 Cherry Dale Court
    Cranston, RI 02920-3049
    Website: www.disabilities.ri.gov
    (401) 462-0100 TTY 711

All data provided by the Center for Appropriate Dispute Resolution in Special Education (CADRE).