Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)

What Is Alternative Dispute Resolution?

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.

Our Goal

To build and maintain good relationships between families and the district, and ensure a student-centered resolution is achieved.

Quick Guides

Alternative Dispute Resolution Strategies

Several Alternative Dispute Resolution strategies have been developed, and depending on the circumstances of the dispute, a particular strategy may be recommended.

Professional facilitators through the Bar Association’s Alternative Dispute Resolution Program offer skilled mediation for the prevention and resolution of complaints between parents and school district personnel in each of the strategies below.

These processes have been shown in other school districts to reduce the level of tension and conflict between parents and school district personnel who must work together effectively to advance a child’s learning at school.

Click on the links below to learn more about each strategy.

Collaborative Conference

What is the Collaborative Conference?

The 2-hour ‘Collaborative Conference’ is a no-attorney zone for the confidential discussion of complaints related to a student's special education support. A skilled, experienced facilitator certified in mediation practice and trained in the policies, procedures and law of special education, facilitates the informal meeting.

The goal is to create a positive, peaceable approach to finding student-centered resolutions. There is no requirement that parents choose this alternative. The Collaborative Conference is voluntary, optional and completely confidential.

Additionally, the content of what is discussed during a collaborative conference, including any information exchanged regarding any provided materials, is to remain confidential for all time, and shall not be repeated in any future forum.

Who attends the Collaborative Conference?

Parents, non-legal support persons and school district personnel with the greatest understanding of the child’s situation attend the Collaborative Conference.

A trained facilitator assists with communication and discussion at the Conference and renders in writing any agreements reached.

What happens after the Collaborative Conference?

When the Collaborative Conference is complete, a resolution outcome form will be prepared by the facilitator and will be filed with the SFUSD Special Education Compliance Program Administrator.

Both you and the participating school personnel will receive a satisfaction survey to provide feedback and evaluation of the conference. You are highly encouraged to return this survey so that the school district is aware of your experience. Please note that completing the survey is completely optional.

Facilitated IEP

What is a Facilitated IEP?

A Facilitated IEP is considered when an IEP team is having difficulty reaching an agreement in relation to the student's IEP.

The Facilitated IEP is led by Bar Association-trained facilitator certified in mediation practice and trained in the policies, procedures, and law of special education.

What is the purpose of a Facilitated IEP?

The goal of the Facilitated IEP is to move the IEP team through the IEP agenda so that the team can reach a signed agreement so that the IEP can be implemented to support the student.  

Communication Strategies Program

What is a Communication Strategy Session?

A Communications Strategies Session is a one-on-one or small group opportunity to meet with a trained facilitator to discuss better communication with other IEP team members for the prevention and resolution of complaints related to services of special education students. The facilitator supports the participant in developing a strategy to independently address a conflict.

Why engage in a Communication Strategy Session?

Finding mutually agreed upon, child-centered solutions, through effective, trust-building communications will ultimately help to repair the relationship between families and the school district, and engender a positive approach to keeping a child’s progress and learning moving forward.

Communication strategists guide participants towards the best approaches and ways of communicating to encourage the resolution of complaints.

The value of this program is that certified mediators, who are adept at managing people in all conditions and under all circumstances, are skilled communicators who possess negotiation and resolution skills.

These elements, facilitation, negotiation and resolution, are necessary and indispensable skills for successful dispute resolution and allow for direction, clarity, and opportunities for resolution.

What is the goal of Communication Strategies Sessions?

The goal of this program is to help members of the IEP team identify communication strategies best suited to fairly and constructively respond to dispute, to help improve the communication strategies used overall between parents and the school district, and shape constructive communications going forward when differences arise.

Who are the facilitators?

The Bar Association of San Francisco's Panel of Special Education Facilitators (SEF Panel) are certified mediators with the Bar Association's Bay Area Mediation Program who receive ongoing professional development relevant to serving SFUSD's families and staff. In addition, 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.

What are the benefits of participating in ADR?

The goal of the ADR is to achieve an early, student-centered resolution. Participants in each strategy have the opportunity to gain insight into the decisions of the school district, learn new ways to communicate, reestablish lines of communication, and negotiate their own position in an informal, non-intimidating space.

Here are some additional values of ADR to consider:

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

  • It's Free to parents 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 June 28, 2022