3.5.3 Special Education Dispute Resolution

Special Education Dispute Resolution

Federal and state laws provide several mechanisms for resolving issues. Please see the Summary of Parents' Rights (also provided at your Individualized Educational Program / IEP meeting): https://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/se/qa/pssummary.asp.

To obtain more information about dispute resolution, including how to file a complaint, contact the California Department of Education (CDE), Special Education Division, Procedural Safeguards Referral Service, by telephone at (800) 926-0648; by fax at (916) 327-3704; or by visiting the “How Disputes are Resolved” section of the CDE’s Notice of Procedural Safeguards webpage at https://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/se/qa/pseng.asp.

While the law establishes formal methods for dispute resolution, SFUSD has established a system of internal, less formal resolution, which you are encouraged to use whenever you believe a problem is developing.

Here are some suggestions:

  1. Discuss the problem with your child’s classroom teacher and/or other school staff member who knows your child’s needs.  This can include your child’s resource teacher, counselor, hearing or language specialist, or other specialist helping your child. You may also speak with the special education program content specialist assigned to your school.
  2. Review your child’s IEP and determine if the plan is being implemented or if it should be revised.  Does it need to change to meet any changing needs of your child? You may request a review of the IEP at any time in writing. A meeting must be held within 30 days of your request, not counting days between regular school sessions or vacation days in excess of five school days.
  3. If there is no resolution, discuss the problem with the school principal. Your principal may ask the assistant principal with responsibility for special education to help.
  4. The Special Education Ombudsperson can assist parents and guardians in navigating Special Education Services and address concerns regarding special education services for their children. Parents/guardians who have a question or concern regarding Special Education Services can contact the Ombudsperson’s office located at 555 Franklin Street 1st Floor, San Francisco, CA 94102 or call 415-447-7802.
  5. Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). The Special Education Services Department of SFUSD has partnered with the Bar Association of San Francisco to offer an additional path to resolving disputes with the school district regarding the learning needs of students. Trained, neutral facilitators from the Bar Association's Alternative Dispute Resolution Program offer skilled mediation for the prevention and resolution of complaints between parents and school district personnel. For more information, see the ADR Program webpage or contact the Program Administrator at adr@sfusd.edu, or (415) 823-4051

Special Education Complaints

Whenever a dispute arises between the District and the parent/guardian of a student with disability regarding the identification, assessment, or educational placement of the student or the provision of a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to the student, SFUSD encourages the early, informal resolution of the dispute at the school level to the extent possible. The District or parent/guardian may:

  1. Participate in the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) process
  2. File a mediation only and/or a due process hearing with the Office of Administrative Hearings Special Education Division
  3. File a complaint with the California Department of Education Complaint Process - Quality Assurance Process.

More detailed information about the District’s special education dispute process can be found at https://www.sfusd.edu/sped/dispute-resolution

Special Education Services Ombudsperson Office

The Special Education Ombudsperson serves as a neutral resource to families by:

  • Investigating concerns about compliance with students' Individual Education Programs (IEPs) and/or inclusive practices at school sites and within departments;
  • Connecting families to SFUSD and community resources for individuals with disabilities;
  • Providing training and guidance on Parental Rights in Special Education; connecting families to the Alternative Dispute Resolution options in SFUSD; and helping families navigate Special Education Services. 
  • The ombudsperson also works with SFUSD staff to serve families and students with IEPs and can provide professional development (PD) on working with families of students receiving special education services.

This office works closely with the Student and Family Services Division to support families of students with disabilities to fully participate in SFUSD systems in accord with SFUSD’s family engagement standards and core values with special emphasis on the SFUSD Board of Education’s “Inclusive Practices Resolution.”

For more information and help navigating Special Education Services please contact: 

SFUSD Special Education Services
555 Franklin Street, 1st Floor
San Francisco, CA 94102
Phone: (415) 447-7802

This page was last updated on September 26, 2022