Beginning in the fall of 2014, and under the initial leadership provided by retired San Francisco Judge Patrick Mahoney, representatives from BASF’s Mediation Services Program and key personnel at the San Francisco Unified School District’s (SFUSD) Special Education Department started a conversation about bringing Alternative Dispute Resolution methods into the schools.
Clear understandings and trusted relationships are important in any child’s learning, but especially for children with learning differences and special needs. When learning assessments and education plans have not been implemented as expected, or when a limitation of resources has created misunderstandings, conflicts can arise and a complaint with the California Department of Education (CDE) might be filed.
This year, SFUSD will pilot the use of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) in partnership with BASF’s Mediation Services Program to resolve such complaints and foster better communication and long lasting outcomes for the parent-teacher-school district relationship.
Under state funding for the next three years, SFUSD, family support groups and BASF have developed an ADR model to resolve CDE complaints that incorporates communication strategies coaching for the district and two-hour collaborative conferences, or mediations, facilitated by BASF’s panel of certified mediators.
BASF’s SFUSD mediators have received 15 hours of specialized training in education law and special education processes and culture to broaden their understanding of the families and school district differences. In addition, training in communication techniques and mediation will also be provided to school district personnel to heighten the communication strategies employed district wide. All mediations are voluntary.
The use of ADR is highly recommended in the context of relationships that will continue over future years, like in the school setting, where families and the school district need to work well together over the course of a student’s academic journey to ensure his or her success in school. It is hoped that this pilot project will help achieve greater understanding and partnership with parents who express concerns around their children’s learning, more quickly resolve CDE complaints filed, and help seed improved relations with families and the school district to bring lasting resolutions. It is also hoped that with success of this pilot partnership, the use of ADR in schools will grow to make the benefits of a cooperative forum of problem-solving more widely available.
For more information on how to become part of the BASF/SFUSD Mediation Panel, please contact Marilyn King at firstname.lastname@example.org or 415-782-8905. For information on the 2016 Mediation Certificate training, or on how to find a mediator, please also contact Marilyn King. Read more about BASF’s Bay Area Mediation Program at www.sfbar.org/mediation.