WSEMS was formally established in July 1996, but traces its origins to two of the founding partners, a parent and a special education director, who had seen the special education system from their own perspective. They were only too familiar with traditional methods used to resolve issues – complaints, due process hearings, and civil trials. They found these to be expensive, time-consuming, polarizing, adversarial, and often without satisfactory results to either side.
The partners’ aspirations for a non-adversarial system, where parents and schools would be able to work out their own solutions, led to their writing a discretionary grant proposal to plan a mediation system in Wisconsin. In 1996, WSEMS convened an Advisory Council, facilitated by an experienced mediator, Eva Soeka, Director of the Marquette University Center for Dispute Resolution Education. The Advisory Council was comprised of representatives from key stakeholder agencies, including parents, schools, legislators, and attorneys. The Council helped develop legislative language for special education mediation in Wisconsin and continues to advise the system today.
Wisconsin Act 164, Chapter 115.797, was unanimously passed by both the assembly and senate and signed into law by Governor Thompson on December 19, 1997, establishing the Wisconsin Special Education Mediation System. In August 1998, WSEMS began full operation of the mediation system.
While not required under state or federal law, WSEMS began a Facilitated IEP program in 2004, also funded with a discretionary grant from the WI Department of Public Instruction. The WSEMS Advisory Council supported this process, whereby parents and schools can request WSEMS roster neutrals to help facilitate IEP team meetings.
In 2005, WSEMS began providing information, training and materials about the process for the resolution meeting and how it relates to due process requests and mediation.
The stakeholders who participated in the design of the Wisconsin Special Education Mediation System:
- Ken Cole representing the Wisconsin Association of School Boards
- Jerry Runice representing the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators
- Phil Knobel, representing the Wisconsin Council of Administrators of Special Services
- Katie Stout, representing the Wisconsin Education Association Counci
- Eileen Dagen, representing the Wisconsin Council for Exceptional Children
- Chris Thomas-Cramer, representing the Survival Coalition
- Jeanie Wanless, representing Families Forward
- Sara Young-Spoerl/Chris Stagge, representing the Autism Society of Wisconsin
- Jeff Spitzer-Resnick, representing the Wisconsin Coalition for Advocacy
- Terry Larson-Baxter, representing the Parent Education Project-Wisconsin
- Donna Miller, representing the Wisconsin Department of Health and Families Support
- Gary Holloway, representing the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction
- Attorney Gary Ruesch, representing school districts
- Attorney Ron Stadler, representing families
- State Representative Marc Duff of New Berlin
- Senator Rick Grobschmidt of Milwaukee.
- Randy Radtke representing Governor Tommy Thompson
James L. Fullin, Jr.