Manitoba Education and Training Resources

Informal Dispute Resolution

What can I do if I have a problem regarding my child with special learning needs at school?

In Manitoba schools, it is a goal that each student feels welcome, valued, and included. We all work together to make our schools safe, positive, and respectful places for each child to learn. There are times, however, when we may have different opinions about the way things could be done, and concerns could arise.

If you or your child is having a problem with the school, it is important that you work with school staff to solve it as quickly and fairly as possible. When we solve problems in a respectful, friendly, and cooperative way, we set positive examples for children. We also work toward building strong positive relationships between home, school, and community.

Frequently Asked Questions

The following questions are the most frequently asked concerning Informal Dispute Resolution:

What is Informal Dispute Resolution?

Informal dispute resolution involves conversations with the person or people who are most directly involved in the dispute and are most likely to help find solutions. Issues are discussed in a direct and informal way. This can be a rewarding and positive process, and far more efficient than some of the more formal approaches.

What should I do first?

The most important thing to do when you or your child is having a problem at school is to talk with the person who is most directly involved and most likely to be able to solve it with you. This is typically the classroom teacher but could also be the case manager, resource teacher or the principal.

Resolving differences at the local school level is always recommended. It offers the possibility of a solution that is acceptable to everyone in a reasonable period of time.

Is there a plan/process I can follow?

You may wish to use a problem-solving process like:

  1. Decide whether the issue is worth pursuing (define the problem).
  2. Meet with the person most directly involved with the issue.
  3. Ask the person to describe how he or she sees the situation.
  4. Describe the situation as you see it.
  5. Summarize the issues that need to be resolved.
  6. Discuss one issue at a time.
  7. Brainstorm possible options for each issue.
  8. Generate solution(s) that work for everyone.
  9. Put the solution(s) in writing.
  10. Set a date to discuss how the solutions are working.

In summary, the steps to resolving disputes are: determine who is involved, contact the person most directly involved, arrange a meeting, prepare, meet, confirm – either through a written plan or summary notes and plan a follow-up.

In all dispute resolution, attitude is important. Use common courtesy at all times and avoid displays of anger, personal attacks or unrelated issues.

What other things might I do to address problems?

Options include (sequence may vary):

  • Follow the school division’s line of communication
  • Meet and speak with the teacher
  • Meet and speak with the case manager for your child
  • Ask a support person to accompany you to a meeting
  • Meet and speak with specialists/clinicians if the issues are related to clinical services
  • Meet and speak with the principal, the person responsible in the school
  • Speak with the Student Services Administrator, the person responsible for Division wide supports and services. The Student Services Administrator, for example, would be the best source of information about available resources
  • Speak with your case worker from Children’s disABILITY Services or Child and Family Services, if appropriate
  • Speak with a parent advocacy group like:
    • Manitoba Association of Parent Councils
    • Inclusion Winnipeg
    • Community Living Manitoba
    • Learning Disabilities Association of Manitoba
  • Request a mediator as it may help to have someone guide the problem solving process
Whom should I contact first?

School divisions usually have a line of communication for solving disputes.

  • Usually, you should speak with the classroom teacher or your child’s case manager first.
  • If the problem has not been resolved, speak with the principal.
  • If the problem still has not been resolved, find out if there is anyone you can contact in your school division (e.g., Student Services Coordinator/Administrator, Assistant Superintendent). The school should have contact lists and information available
  • If your problem is with a specific staff member, talk to the principal or Superintendent. Human Resources issues are dealt with in a very specific manner.

The next steps are considered more formal:

  • If the problem still has not been resolved, speak with the Superintendent.
  • If the problem still has not been resolved, contact the Board of Trustees. Your elected school trustee can assist you with this process.
  • If the Board of Trustees turns down your request, you may contact the Manitoba Education and Training Review Coordinator.
How can I develop positive relationships with my child’s school?

Positive relationships are formed when families and schools work together. Everyone has valuable information to share. Parents know their child best and teachers know the child in the school environment. Educators are professionals with extensive training and experience. Everyone’s contribution is valuable.

  • Build trust by getting to know each other.
  • Discuss how you will communicate (in what format, how often, about what).
  • Try to solve problems where and when they occur, so they don’t grow into bigger   problems later.
What does it mean when the school division says that Informal Dispute Resolution should be tried first?

Resolving disputes through communication, understanding and compromise generally results in a more meaningful, long-lasting and rewarding solution than imposed decisions from a third party such as a Review Committee. In an informal process it is important that both sides ask themselves “What can be reasonably achieved in the best interests of the child?” and work toward that goal. An informal process can be facilitated by a trained mediator, but often the principal or someone else from the division will be the facilitator.

What can I do to prevent disputes from happening in the first place?

Options include (order may vary):

  • Educate yourself on your child’s learning needs and be familiar with how your school and school division works, e.g. some school divisions have specialized classrooms, some do not
  • Understand your responsibilities/obligations and those of the school division
  • Maintain an information binder on your child to share with new teachers
  • Maintain close contact with your child’s teacher and/or case manager
    • communicate reasonably (avoid lengthy phone calls; avoid overuse of emails or contacts outside of school hours)
  • Attend all Individual Education Plan (IEP) meetings, raise issues and ask for decisions in writing
  • Have a support person attend IEP meetings with you and let the school know
  • Learn problem solving processes i.e. who do you go to with your concerns
  • Volunteer at school
  • Attend parent-teacher meetings or student-lead conferences
  • Join the Parent Advisory Council
  • Request information from your school, school division or Manitoba Education and Training that will help you understand the supports, resources and programming in Manitoba
  • Join a parent support group, take their courses or attend seminars that they hold for parents

Be a positive role model. Adults may disagree but it is never appropriate to put a child in the middle. Parents and teachers need to have those conversations privately.