7.11 Special Education Disputes

Special Education Disputes

The SFUSD Special Education Services Department strives to meet the educational needs of each child with an Individualized Education Program (IEP). However, disagreements occasionally arise.

When a disagreement arises, the first step is to talk to your child's special education or general teacher about your concerns. Next, discuss the issue with the principal and/or request an IEP meeting. If an IEP meeting does not bring a resolution, please contact the Special Education Content Specialist or Special Education Supervisor for your child's school. Parents/guardians may use this Special Education contact list to find the name and contact information of the Content Specialist/Supervisor for your school. 

Families may also contact the SFUSD Ombudsperson. The ombudsperson is a neutral facilitator who helps families navigate the special education process and can investigate complaints and concerns. She can provide advice on the special education process, inform parents of their rights and connect families to special education resources in the community. Additionally, parents/guardians may contact Support for Families of Children with Disabilities to access information, resources, referrals and guidance. The Support for Families Family Resource Specialists provide information in English, Spanish, Cantonese, and Mandarin. 

When a dispute between the District and the parent/guardian of a student with disabilities cannot be resolved at the school level, the District or parent/guardian may request alternative dispute resolution, mediation and/or a due process hearing with the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH), or file a complaint with the California Department of Education.

Special Education Complaint Process Options

  1. Participate in Alternative Dispute Resolution process.
    The SFUSD Special Education Services Department has partnered with The Bar Association of San Francisco (BASF) to offer strategies to resolve complaints with the school district regarding the learning needs of your child. Depending on the circumstances of the dispute, various strategies may be recommended, such as individualized Communication Strategy Sessions, a Collaborative Conference, or a Facilitated IEP.  Neutral, trained facilitators who offer skilled mediation for the prevention and resolution of complaints between parents/guardians and school district personnel in a cooperative forum of problem-solving are provided through BASF for each of these strategies. This process has been shown to reduce the level of tension and conflict between families and district personnel who must work together effectively to advance a child's learning at school.

  2. File a Mediation Only and/or Formal Due Process with the Office of Administrative Hearings Special Education Division.
    “Mediation Only” is a state-level, voluntary dispute resolution process with OAH. In Mediation Only, a neutral mediator assists you and the District in discussing and attempting to resolve your disagreement. The mediators are not employees of the District and do not have any personal interest in the disagreement. The mediators are selected on an impartial basis by the State and know the laws and regulations relating to the provision of special education and related services. The Mediation Only process includes a mediation conference attended by you, the assigned mediator, and a District representative who has decision-making authority. Lawyers or advocates, for the student/parent or for the District, are not permitted to participate in Mediation Only.

    Due process complaints provide a way to request a hearing before and Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Either parents or the District may file a due process complaint on any matter relating to a proposal or refusal to initiate or change the identification, evaluation or educational placement of a student, or the provision of a free appropriate public education (FAPE). The proceedings begin with the submission of a complaint notice and include a resolution period with a mandatory resolution session meeting, optional mediation, and a due process hearing before an ALJ, which results in a written decision.  The District convenes the resolution session meeting. The OAH facilitates the optional mediation and the due process hearing.  It may not be necessary to go through all of the due process proceedings to reach resolution. A due process complaint may be resolved by mutual agreement of the parties at any stage of the proceedings.

  3. File a complaint with the California Department of Education.
    A written signed complaint is a formal request to the CDE to investigate allegations in which the complainant believes the public agency (e.g. student’s school district) has violated federal or state special education law or regulation. Complaints may concern one child or student, or a group of students. Anyone, including parents, students, teachers, and agency representatives may file complaints. The CDE then issues an investigative Report, determining whether the District complied with applicable laws.