What You Need to Know About Alternative Dispute Resolution
What is ADR in school?
How do I ask for ADR?
In most cases, a parent should call their SELPA directly, or ask their IEP case manager to call the SELPA for them. (You can find your SELPA’s contact info on this CA Dept. of Ed webpage — scroll down a bit for the list.) In L.A. Unified School District (LAUSD), however, parents must call the Educational Equity Compliance Office (details here).
Remember that ADR is 100 percent voluntary, so both sides need to agree to attend the meeting, and no one is forced into an outcome. At times, one side won’t want to pursue ADR if they’ve felt informal avenues have been exhausted and a solution is not within reach.
Harper says that sometimes the school district is the first to reach out to him, but many times it’s the family that initiates contact, and then he will get the ball rolling for ADR with the district. Purchin is a proponent of clients bringing whomever makes them most comfortable to the table, even if that means an advocate or attorney; however, the point of ADR is to be speedy and reach an agreement BEFORE involving legal representation on either side.
“I also always have both the parents and district sign a confidentiality agreement saying that none of the discussions can be used against the other party if due process is filed,” says Purchin. That way everyone involved can brainstorm freely and not feel like they have to watch what they say.
Is virtual ADR a good option?
“Over the years, parents have become more aware of ADR, but the transition to online dispute resolution and IEP meetings has been a game changer,” explains Harper. Availability has exploded thanks to the virtual option; more of the IEP team can attend, as can the family, which gives them the opportunity of having a more united front as well.
Harper hopes that districts also take the opportunity to look at how some aspects of virtual life actually made things better. “While one con is that you are missing that face-to-face, in-person interaction, the virtual option makes participants much more comfortable and open. And when you’re more relaxed, you have a clearer head to make better, more informed decisions on behalf of the student.”
Things to remember in ADR
- Do away with a one-track mindset:
There will rarely be one right answer to any issue being discussed during ADR. So, shift your mindset to: what are the options or possibilities here? “People get so hung up on one specific outcome to solve the problem that they don’t think about the other options in play,” Harper says. “I had a family that was requesting a 1:1 aide. Everyone was going in circles on why this was needed. When I spoke with them one on one, they revealed that their child had gotten hurt playing during recess. So, safety was at the root of their desire, and that was not particularly articulated in the meeting. I said, ‘Let’s have a conversation about safety, then, and talk about other remedies to address safety on the school campus.’ We ended up with about twelve different options to address safety and the family was blown away.”
Get it in writing:
“If there is an agreement, I recommend putting that in writing and have the district representative and the parents sign, which is good for compliance too,” Purchin says.
“Be hard on the problem and gentle with each other,” Purchin advises.
Those words ring true for so many instances in life.