(a) It is the intent of the Legislature that parties to special education disputes be encouraged to seek resolution through mediation prior to filing a request for a due process hearing. It is also the intent of the Legislature that these voluntary prehearing request mediation conferences be an informal process conducted in a nonadversarial atmosphere to resolve issues relating to the identification, assessment, or educational placement of the child, or the provision of a free appropriate public education to the child, to the satisfaction of both parties. Therefore, attorneys or other independent contractors used to provide legal advocacy services may not attend or otherwise participate in the prehearing request mediation conferences.
(b) This part does not preclude the parent or the public agency from being accompanied and advised by nonattorney representatives in the mediation conferences and consulting with an attorney prior to or following a mediation conference. For purposes of this section, "attorney" means an active, practicing member of the State Bar of California or another independent contractor used to provide legal advocacy services, but does not mean a parent of the pupil who is also an attorney.
(c) Requesting or participating in a mediation conference is not a prerequisite to requesting a due process hearing.
(d) All requests for a mediation conference shall be filed with the Superintendent. The party initiating a mediation conference by filing a written request with the Superintendent shall provide the other party to the mediation with a copy of the request at the same time the request is filed with the Superintendent. The mediation conference shall be conducted by a person knowledgeable in the process of reconciling differences in a nonadversarial manner and under contract with the department pursuant to Section 56504.5. The mediator shall be knowledgeable in the laws and regulations governing special education.
(e) The prehearing mediation conference shall be scheduled within 15 days of receipt by the Superintendent of the request for mediation. The mediation conference shall be completed within 30 days after receipt of the request for mediation unless both parties to the prehearing mediation conference agree to extend the time for completing the mediation. Pursuant to Section 300.506(b)(4) of Title 34 of the Code of Federal Regulations, and to encourage the use of mediation, the state shall bear the cost of the mediation process, including any meetings described in Section 300.506(b)(2) of Title 34 of the Code of Federal Regulations. The costs of mediation shall be included in the contract described in Section 56504.5.
(f) In accordance with Section 1415(e)(2)(F) of Title 20 of the United States Code, if a resolution is reached that resolves the due process issue through the mediation process, the parties shall execute a legally binding written agreement that sets forth the resolution and that does the following:
(1) States that all discussions that occurred during the mediation process shall be confidential and may not be used as evidence in any subsequent due process hearing or civil proceeding.
(2) Is signed by both the parent and the representative of the public agency who has the authority to bind the agency.
(3) Is enforceable in any state court of competent jurisdiction or in a federal district court of the United States.
(g) If the mediation conference fails to resolve the issues to the satisfaction of all parties, the party who requested the mediation conference has the option of filing for a state-level hearing pursuant to Section 56505. The mediator may assist the parties in specifying any unresolved issues to be included in the hearing request.
(h) Any mediation conference held pursuant to this section shall be scheduled in a timely manner and shall be held at a time and place reasonably convenient to the parties to the dispute in accordance with Section 300.506(b)(5) of Title 34 of the Code of Federal Regulations.
(i) The mediation conference shall be conducted in accordance with regulations adopted by the board.
(j) (1) Notwithstanding any procedure set forth in this chapter, a public agency and a parent, if the party initiating the mediation conference so chooses, may meet informally to resolve any issue or issues to the satisfaction of both parties prior to the mediation conference.
(2) In accordance with Section 300.506(b)(2) of Title 34 of the Code of Federal Regulations, a public agency may establish procedures to offer to parents and schools that choose not to use the mediation process, an opportunity to meet, at a time and location convenient to the parents, with a disinterested party as follows:
(A) Who is under contract with an appropriate alternative dispute resolution entity, or a parent training and information center or community parent resource center in the state established under Section 1471 or Section 1472 of Title 20 of the United States Code.
(B) Who would explain the benefits of, and encourage the use of, the mediation process to the parents.
(k) The procedures and rights contained in this section shall be included in the notice of parent rights attached to the assessment plan of the pupil pursuant to Section 56321.
(Amended by Stats. 2007, Ch. 454, Sec. 28.)