We ended up going to mediation without an advocate. I'm not sure I would hire an advocate again based on my own experience. Someone else's mileage may differ. The advocate was knowledgeable and nice, but he didn't get any further with our neighborhood school than we did.
We went to mediation because it was clear our neighborhood school was not going to provide services for our son. Period. I had to ask myself if I was fighting for my son or fighting just for inclusion. When I realized I just wanted what was best for my son and that the neighborhood school didn't want him there, I knew we needed to move him to another school. Why would I want him at a school that didn't want him? It was a high-achieving school with very strict demographics. Not a bad school if your child fits into their specified box.
The alternative elementary school the district proposed was at least a fifteen minute drive from our house, without traffic. It would've been physically impossible to pick up my son and pick up my other kids from their schools. We took a request for a different, closer, elementary school to mediation. We also insisted on more inclusion than initially offered.
We also requested that our daughter be given the opportunity to transfer with her brother if she desired, but be allowed to return to the middle school she is zoned for, so she could reconnect with friends.
The mediator was a very kind woman who was so calm. She took all the previous contention we'd felt and washed it away. She was excellent and at the end of a very long day, we received what we had requested.
We removed our son from our neighborhood school. The kids in his class were quite upset. Some of the girls cried in class. One boy went home and cried to his mom about my son leaving. (They later had a play date initiated by this boy to see each other again). My daughter decided it was much more important to her to be in the same school with her brother than to be with her friends. She felt like she needed to be with him to watch over him. We transferred them both to the new school in February.
Stay tuned for our experience in the new school.