Dispute Resolution Processes

The regulations for Part B of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Tennessee law, and the Tennessee State Board of Education rules and regulations set procedures for the three (3) dispute resolution options available:  Administrative Complaint, Mediation, and Due Process Hearing. 

However, concerns do not always require use of these dispute resolution procedures.  Many times, answers to questions or advice as to how to address concerns will help keep a concern from becoming a dispute issue.  The following are some steps that may be taken to resolve concerns, while at the same time strengthening the working relationship between the concerned party and the school system. 

  • Contact the teacher or service provider and discuss the concerns.
  • Notify the principal and request his/her assistance.
  • Request an IEP team meeting.
  • Contact the district director/supervisor of special education to make him/her aware of the concerns and provide the results of any contact with the teacher, principal, etc.
  • Contact our partnering parent call center at (615) 248-5878 or (833) 596-1553.
  • Contact the department’s special education legal team at Dispute.Resolution@tn.gov to receive information related to the dispute resolution options, advocacy resources, and additional assistance options available, or to schedule a call with a member of the special education legal team. Please be advised our office cannot provide legal advice but readily shares resources and information related to dispute resolution options in Tennessee.
If a local resolution to the concerns is not achieved, our office can assist you in determining the necessary course of action.

An administrative complaint is a way to ensure that federal and state regulations are followed, the rights of the parent and the child are being observed, and the child is receiving all the special education and related services that are a part of the IEP.  An administrative complaint may be filed by any individual or organization alleging a violation of any Part B requirement by a school district, the Tennessee Department of Education, or any other public agency.

An administrative complaint should be filed in writing and signed by the person filing the complaint.  Administrative complaints may be filed via US mail, fax, or e-mail.

An IDEA complaint investigator will gather evidence or documentation in whatever means deemed appropriate to address the complaint.  The investigation may require additional documents, email or telephone communications, and site visits. 

The administrative complaint process is a corrective action process.  The purpose of an administrative complaint is not to punish the school system; it is a way to ensure that the law is followed.   Parents do not receive punitive damages, nor are school systems fined for violations.

Issues not Addressed Through the Administrative Complaint Process

  • Allegations of abuse should be reported to a local law enforcement agency or the Department of Children Services.
  • Allegations of discrimination or violations of Civil Rights should be reported to your local Title VI, Title IX, or Section 504 coordinator, or the Office for Civil Rights at (404) 974-9406.
  • Matters that are exclusively under the control of the local school system should be addressed according to local school board policy.  Personnel issues are the responsibility of the local school system, and the local school board should have a policy for filing a complaint or grievance against a school board employee.  Administrative decisions such as promotion or retention, grade assignment, school assignment, and teacher assignment are made according to local school board policy and should be appealed locally.

Administrative Complaint Investigation Findings

Download IDEA Written Complaint:

Mediation is an impartial and voluntary process of dispute resolution.  The parties involved have a confidential discussion concerning the dispute with a qualified and impartial third party.  Mediation may be requested by a parent or school district to resolve disputes regarding any matter covered under Part B of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). 

Benefits of Mediation

Mediation is less formal, less expensive, and less time consuming than a due process hearing.  The parties involved have more control over the decision-making process and flexibility to devise their own solutions.  The issues that can be raised are broader than those in a due process hearing, and the remedies are individually tailored to meet the educational needs of the child.

A due process hearing is a dispute resolution process in which an administrative law judge hears complaints regarding the identification, evaluation, placement or provision of a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to a child with a disability.  The parties present evidence to support their cases, and the judge issues written final orders which include detailed findings of fact and conclusions of the law, as well as a determination of prevailing party status.  A due process hearing may be requested by a parent or school district.

An administrative law judge is a professional hearing officer who works for the government to preside over hearings and appeals involving governmental agencies.  In order to hear due process cases, the judge must have intensive training in special education law and undergo annual training in special education law.  

A due process hearing is considered the most adversarial and least collaborative dispute resolution option.

Due Process Final Orders

Download IDEA Due Process Final Orders: