Special Education Dispute Resolution Options

How Disputes Are Resolved

The Special Education Services Department of SFUSD strives to meet the unique educational needs of all exceptional children with each Individualized Education Program (IEP) written; however, disagreements arise occasionally. 

The first step to take when there is a disagreement is to talk to your child's special education or general teacher about your concerns. The next step is to discuss the issue with your school principal and/or call an IEP meeting to discuss the situation and try to resolve the concern. If an IEP meeting with your school team does not bring you closer to agreement you can contact the Special Education Content Specialist or Special Education Supervisor for your child's school. You can use this special education contact list to find the name and contact information of the Content Specialist/Supervisor for your school. 

Parents/guardians can also contact the SFUSD Ombudsperson who is a neutral facilitator who helps families and caregivers navigate the special education process. She can provide advice on the special education process, inform parents of their rights and connect families to special education resources in the community.

In addition, parents/guardians are encouraged to call or email Support for Families of Children with Disabilities to access information, resources, referrals and guidance. Family Resource Specialists provide information in English, Spanish, Cantonese, and Mandarin. 

When disagreements can't be resolved at the school level, parents and guardians have three options to pursue a resolution to the disagreement:


  1. Alternative Dispute Resolution
    The Special Education Services Department of the San Francisco Unified School District has partnered with The Bar Association of San Francisco (BASF) to offer several strategies as a way 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 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 in other school districts to reduce the level of tension and conflict between parents and district personnel who must work together effectively to advance a child's learning at school.
  2. Mediation Only
    “Mediation Only” is a state-level, voluntary dispute resolution process under the Office of Administrative Hearings (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.
  3. Formal Due Process
    Due process hearing requests are dispute resolution proceedings required to be available to parents and school districts under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). You 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 your child or the provision of a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to your child. 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 impartial hearing officer.  The District convenes the resolution session meeting.  The Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) conducts 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.

Please visit the 504 webpage for information about the Section 504 Grievance Procedure