The Special Education Services Department of the San Francisco Unified School District has partnered with The Bar Association of San Francisco to offer a new way to resolve complaints with the school district regarding the learning needs of your child.  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 a cooperative forum of problem solving called the 'Collaborative Conference'.  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.

System Oversight, Infrastructure and Organization: 

System Design/Management

What is the Collaborative Conference and Who Attends?

The 2-hour 'Collaborative Conference' is a no-attorney zone for the confidential discussion of complaints needing resolution.  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 choosed this alternative.  The Collaborative Confernce 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, and shall not be repeated in a future forum. Parents, educational reights holders, non-legal support persons and school district personnel with the greatest understanding of the child's situation attend the Collaborative Confrence.  A trained facilitator assists with communication and discussion at the Conference and renders in writing any agreements reached.

Families are encouraged to use the informal Collaborative Conference session if they have issues or concerns that have not been successfully addressed through the IEP process and other tiers of resolution. This process is highly suggested as an alternative to filing for due process or district mediation. The Collaborative Conference is an available resolution step in the spirit of building partnerships between SFUSD and families. It is available as a way to keep communication and understandings clear.

Participating in a Collaborative Conference may speed up the resolution process and give clarity to issues and concerns to inform decision-making processes. A family’s decision to participate in a Collaborative Conference does not negatively impact the IEP process.

ADR Roles and Responsibilities

Program Access & Delivery: 

Availability/Accessing Services

Requesting a Conference: A Collaborative Conference can be requested at any time. A Collaborative Conference may be requested alone or simultaneously with a request for a due process hearing. A request for a Collaborative Conference may also be requested when filing a complaint. The ADR Program Administrator assists with scheduling a date and time for the conference. Complete all requested information on the consent form, including your availability for scheduling a conference, sign the form, and return it to the Administrator within 48 hours of receipt for the immediate scheduling of a conference. The Administrator will alert The Bar Association of San Francisco of the scheduling request. The Bar Association will schedule a member of the SEF Panel to facilitate a Collaborative Conference between family and the school district as soon as possible. The ADR Program Administrator will alert family and the participating school personnel by phone and email of the scheduled date and time of the conference.

FAQ for Alternative Dispute Resolution

SFUSD and The Bar Association of San Francisco’s Communications Strategies Program for District Personnel

Practitioner Standards & Professional Development: 

Qualifications & Selection

Who are the Collaborative Conference 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 have received 15 hours of specialized training in special educaiton law and the culture of parental and school district relations.  In addition, the facilitatators who serve on the SEF 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 complaint. Facilitators are chosen due to logistical needs such as dates and times the family chooses to hold the conference as well as substantive - which facilitator has the most knowledge in the issues related to the student and family’s needs.

Public Awareness & Outreach Activities: 


Collaborative Conference Brochure

Collaborative Conference Brochure - Spanish