Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)

What Is Alternative Dispute Resolution?

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) is an umbrella term referring to any resolution process, agreed to by disagreeing parties, in which the services of a neutral professional are used to assist them in reaching agreement and avoiding litigation.

The Special Education Services Department of the San Francisco Unified School District has partnered with The Bar Association of San Francisco to offer an alternative way to resolve complaints with the school district regarding the learning needs of your child.

The goal of using ADR is to achieve student-centered resolutions early in a dispute. Participants in ADR have an opportunity to gain insight into the positions of the school district, learn new ways to communicate, re-establish lines of communication, and negotiate their own position in an informal, non-intimidating space.

Alternative Dispute Resolution Strategies

Depending on the circumstances of the dispute, one of three ADR strategies may be recommended.

Unfold the accordions below to learn more about each strategy.

Collaborative Conference

A Collaborative Conference is a two-hour, confidential, resolution session for disputes related to a student's special education support. This could be the student's IEP, communications between team members, or other support matters.

A trained facilitator leads the group through the conference, emphasizing a balancing of power differentials, and ensuring that each participant has an opportunity to be heard.

Parents, support persons, and school district personnel with the greatest understanding of the child’s situation attend the Collaborative Conference with the goal of creating a positive, peaceable approach to finding student-centered resolutions.

If any agreements are made during the Collaborative Conference, a "Collaborative Agreement" is drafted, and signed by both the student's parents and the ADR Program Administrator.

Facilitated IEP

A Facilitated IEP is for IEP teams that are having a hard time reaching agreement on the student's IEP. A trained facilitator will lead the team through the agenda for the IEP, ensuring that all concerns are heard and noted. The goal of the Facilitated IEP is to help the IEP team reach an agreement that the family is willing to consent to, in order for the IEP to be implemented to support the student.

Communication Strategy Session and Office Hours

A Communication Strategy Session and Office Hours are for those important and meaningful situations when a member of the IEP team needs a though partner. The requesting individual is connected with a trained facilitator for a confidential, one-on-one conversation. Topics can include how to word an email, responding to a hostile team member, whether or not a Facilitated IEP or Collaborative Conference might be helpful, or any other number of topics that are best solved individually. The goal is to help improve communication between families and the school district, and shape constructive communications moving forward, should differences arise again.

Who are the facilitators?

The Bar Association of San Francisco's Panel of Special Education Facilitators are certified mediators who receive ongoing professional development relevant to serving SFUSD's families and staff. The facilitators who serve on the Panel have received specific training in the kinds of complaints parents have brought in the special education context and the frustrations, tensions and culture that can bring about difficulties and complaints.

Here are some additional values of ADR to consider:

  • It's Effective - Facilitated communication, which each strategy offers, result in long-term resolutions with mutual satisfaction

  • It's Free to parents and caregivers who participate

  • It's Convenient - Sessions can be scheduled at a mutually convenient time and location to accommodate participants' schedules

  • It's Empowering - Parents and school personnel are able to develop student-focused solutions which take into account all perspectives

  • It's Confidential - Statements made during the Collaborative Conference and documents prepared for the sessions are confidential and are not made available under any circumstances without the expressed written consent of all participants


Please contact Adriana Aro, ADR Program Administrator at or call (415) 823-4051.

This page was last updated on March 22, 2023