Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)

What Is Alternative Dispute Resolution?

The SELPA Administrators of CA define Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) as "an informal method of settling disagreements using techniques to promote understanding, open communication, and arrive at satisfying solutions to conflicts. 

ADR is designed to strengthen relationships and meet the interests of all parties involved to reach a mutually agreeable outcome, rather than having a decision made by a third party such as a hearing officer or judge."

In SFUSD, we partner with the Bar Association of San Francisco to provide these informal dispute resolution strategies. Our partnership with the Bar Association's neutral dispute resolution professionals helps SFUSD and Families achieve student-centered resolutions early in a dispute.

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, particularly when the relationships between adults on the IEP team are compromised.

A trained facilitator leads the group through the conference. Participants share their concerns, and the facilitator ensures they are understood, and that with clear understanding, the group attempts to come to an agreement for moving forward.

Parents and school district personnel with the greatest understanding of the child’s IEP 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 an SFUSD administrator.

Preview the Confidentiality Agreement

Preview the Collaborative Agreement

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 help draft an agenda for the IEP meeting in order to ensure that all concerns are heard and noted in an effort to move forward on the IEP.

The goal of the Facilitated IEP is to help the IEP team reach an agreement on the IEP so that parents are comfortable consenting to implementation.

Communication Strategy Session (CSS)

A Communication Strategy Session are an opportunity for thought partnership with a neutral facilitator. An individual or small group is able to meet for up to 30 minutes to discuss a challenge that any IEP team member may be facing. This conversation is confidential and topics may include wording of an email, other ADR strategies that may be helpful, responding to hostility from another team member, conflict coaching, or any number of other concerns. 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 supervisor at or call/text (415) 823-4051.

This page was last updated on January 9, 2024