Cadre: Consortium for Appropriate Dispute Resolution in Special Education

Article excerpt

Federal and state special education laws have provided access to education for America's millions of children with disabilities since 1975. In the 32-year history of special education law, few issues have been more vexing than how to help parents and professionals build cooperative, effective relationships. Indeed, recent revisions of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) have emphasized the development of alternative dispute resolution systems and models for parent-professional partnerships to curb the natural contentiousness that can occur when parents and educators sit down to plan a child's educational future.

The Consortium for Appropriate Dispute Resolution in Special Education (CADRE) was formed in 1998 to help families and educators effectively resolve special education disputes. CADRE's Director, Marshall Peter, created CADRE after experiencing the special education system as a parent and as a special education teacher and after seeing the damage that was a byproduct of due process hearings.

Like most parents of kids with disabilities, Peter's motivation to become a special education expert working to improve the system for everyone came from his advocacy for his stepdaughter, Alana. Peter learned early on that the key to successful IEP programming was to create circumstances where the decision-making power remained with the parents. Due process hearings, he learned, were like "casting your fate to the wind." The process takes away decisions from parents AND educators and gives them to detached third parties who know neither the child nor the child's school system.

Peter, who estimates that he has attended over 2,000 IEP Team meetings in his career, felt more resources needed to be directed to helping to create strong working relationships at the start of the special education process in order to avoid the rancor and contention that can evolve as tenuous relationships between parents and professionals dissolve in the midst of controversy.

CADRE, funded by the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs, serves as the National Center on Dispute Resolution in Special Education. CADRE was founded in the belief that helping families and educators resolve disputes saves money that can be spent on educating children rather than litigating educational program conflicts.

CADRE has the following priorities:

* Identify effective, cost-beneficial dispute resolution practices and support their implementation

* Enhance collaboration between education/early intervention agencies and parent organizations

* Promote improved problem-solving skills across stakeholder groups

* Assist states to implement the dispute resolution provisions of IDEA '04

* Support integration of dispute resolution management and improved state system performance

* Compile State Performance Plan data and information on the characteristics of state systems

CADRE's special gift to parents and special education personnel is its wealth of research into conflict resolution options and its commitment to helping IEP Teams to implement those options successfully. CADRE's continuum of special education conflict resolution options details the five stages of conflict and the levels of intervention that can be used to address the conflict.

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In each instance, the goals are:

* Third party assistance [IEP facilitation] rather than third party intervention

* Decisions made by parents and schools rather than by judges or hearing officers

* Decisions based on the child's interests, rather than on statutory rights

* Informal and flexible resolution options [less stressful] rather than formal and fixed statutory or rules-based procedures. CADRE guides its users to understand the techniques available in each of the five stages of conflict.

* Stage 1--Prevention: Concentrates on participant and stakeholder training; stakeholder council; and collaborative rulemaking. …