Alternative Dispute Resolution - January 11, 2017

This is an image of a rope losing tension and breaking symbolizing the tension of an ADR meetingl

Many times during IEP meetings or during other interactions between parents and staff, emotions can take over and suck the air out of any process. When this happens, conflict emerges! The parties become hurt, feel isolated and misunderstood, trust is damaged, collaboration ceases, and the intent to focus on the child’s unique needs becomes a blurry, distant image.

What could you do in a such a situation? How can you restore communication, trust, collaboration, and refocus your school team on the needs of the student? Learning about special education laws and regulations, communication techniques, facilitated IEP strategies, and meaningful parent participation are all ways in which you could equip yourself to help navigate through difficult storms. By participating in the Alternative Dispute Resolution pathway, you could learn and practice those skills critical to preventing conflict and responding appropriately when conflicts occur.

By definition, Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) is the process by which families and local educational agencies (LEA) can resolve disagreements through an informal meeting process. The process involves the intervention of a neutral, trained facilitator who assists the parties in finding common ground. The benefits of participating in ADR include increasing communication and collaboration between families and schools, which preserves working relationships. While the above definition alludes to a specific process available to LEAs and parents who require it, the skills employed during an ADR session can be obtained by anyone wishing to improve their professional communication and facilitation skills.

The SELPA is providing an Alternative Dispute Resolution – Tier 1 professional learning pathway. Participants in this pathway will be presented with four courses including: IEP Forms and Facts, learn about IEP forms and the legally required components of an IEP; The Collaborative IEP Process, learn the steps in the collaborative IEP process including the roles of the facilitator and other critical members, as well as useful tools for effective meeting facilitation and conflict management; Facilitated IEPs, learn about facilitation techniques, communication and listening skills, and understand the role of each IEP team member, including the parent; and Meaningful Parent IEP Participation, learn strategies to ensure parents are active participants of the IEP process from inception. To learn more about these courses and others available from the SELPA, visit our website.

In addition to the trainings provided by the SELPA, this school year you will have the opportunity to participate in the California State SELPA Alternative Dispute Resolution Conference, which will be hosted at the Riverside Convention Center on March 21 and22, 2017. National and state ADR experts will be presenting on topics related to cooperative IEP processes, facilitation skills, conflict management, and making connections to build trusting relationships with various stakeholders. The Region 10 ADR Committee is also sponsoring a training on January 31, 2017 at the Etiwanda Gardens in Ontario. Tracy Mueller, Ph.D. will be presenting on the topic Building Strong Parent-School Relationships in Special Education. Registration for this training is available at

Strong emotions and conflict will inevitably be part of the special education process, however, you have the opportunity to equip yourself with the tools and a toolbox to effectively negotiate, facilitate, and collaborate with your own school teams, and with the families you serve for the benefit of our most valuable assets – our children. More information regarding ADR, including resources for IEP teams and parents can be obtained by visiting The Center for Appropriate Dispute Resolution in Special Education (CADRE) website.

Fisher, R., & Shapiro, D. (2006) Beyond Reason: Using Emotions as you Negotiate