A Detroit Mom Guide to Special Education Mediation Services – Why YOU Need Them



Are you wondering what SEMS is and how it can help your student? SEMS stands for Special Education Mediation Services. The organization’s goal is to help parents and educators make decisions that improve education outcomes for students with disabilities. It does so by fostering cooperation and effective teamwork in planning and resolving disagreements over education services. SEMS doesn’t take sides. Rather, it helps all involved do their best work on behalf of the student. SEMS is a grant program of the Michigan Department of Education Office of Special Education. Its services are free to users.

How It Works:

SEMS provides three services:

  1. Facilitation
  2. Mediation
  3. Training


If you have an upcoming special education meeting with your child’s school, you can request a neutral meeting facilitator. SEMS facilitators are trained in special education and help ensure that all participants have a chance to speak, share information and express their ideas. They can also manage the meeting if desired.

Any special education meeting can be facilitated, including:

  • IFSP (Individualized Family Service Plan) meetings for 0- to 3-year-olds
  • IEP (Individualized Education Program) meetings for 3- to 26-year-olds
  • MDR (Manifestation Determination Review) meetings in response to long-term suspension or expulsion decisions
  • RS (Resolution Session) meetings related to due process complaint

When to use facilitation:

  • Any special education meeting: IEP, IFSP, BIP, MET, MDR, RS or planning conference
  • Participants need to focus on student issues while a facilitator moves discussion forward and minds the clock
  • Participants are uneasy about a meeting
  • Parent-school relations are strained

What a facilitator will do:

  • Create an agenda based on the input received from the parties
  • Stay neutral
  • Make sure everyone adheres to agreed-upon ground rules
  • Keep the meeting centered on the student’s needs
  • Help negotiate disagreements
  • Keep the meeting on track and on time
  • Manage the IEP team meeting, if requested

What a facilitator will not do:

  • Be a part of the team
  • Give legal advice
  • Advocate for a position
  • Make decisions


When parents and schools have a clear disagreement about education services, mediation provides a safe, neutral environment for them to explore options that meet the student’s needs. SEMS provides trained, neutral mediators to guide the participants through a discussion process that has an 80% agreement rate.

When to use mediation:

  • For any special education dispute, for example:
    • Eligibility for programs, services
    • Evaluation interpretations
    • Transition issues
    • Service delivery, effectiveness
    • Resolution sessions
    • Communication, relationship issues
    • As part of the special education hearing or complaint process

What the mediator will do:

  • Remain neutral
  • Establish ground rules for the discussion
  • Conduct the mediation
  • Ensure all parties have equal opportunity to express their ideas and thoughts
  • Help the parties focus on the student’s needs
  • Encourage the parties to generate options
  • Record the agreement

What the mediator will not do:

  • Take sides
  • Make decisions
  • Give legal advice

Benefits of mediation:

  • Mediation takes less time than a hearing or complaint, which means students receive services faster
  • Participants, not the mediator, decide what actions to take
  • Solutions remain local
  • Dispute resolution costs decline
  • More time and money are spent on educating

Benefits of a Collaborative Approach Through Facilitation and Mediation

  • Learn more about the educational process
  • Develop and maintain a positive working relationship with the school team
  • Understand each other’s perspective
  • Keep the focus on positive outcomes for your child
  • Find solutions that are agreeable to all involved
  • Resolve issues quickly and avoid lengthy investigations, hearings or court proceedings

What to Do:

  1. Call 833-KIDS1ST (833-543-7178) or complete the service request form here (https://www.mikids1st.org/request-services/).
  2. SEMS will gather information about your student and your concerns.
  3. SEMS will then provide information about how its services may help in your situation.
  4. SEMS will contact the other party for agreement to participate.

SEMS will coordinate the services needed with a local community dispute resolution center.

Detroit Mom has partnered with Special Education Mediation Services to bring you relevant content about helping parents and educators make decisions to improve education outcomes for students with disabilities.


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