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Capacity Building & Prevention

Perhaps the best and easiest way to manage conflict is to prevent it in the first place. Increasing the capacity of systems and individuals to meaningfully collaborate and problem-solve offers a proactive strategy for conflict management. Here we review leading preventative alternatives.


All parents can and should participate meaningfully in their children’s education, including those whose children receive special education services. Research demonstrates that parent/family involvement significantly contributes to improved student outcomes. Engagement between family members and educators is seen through coordinated efforts as well as joint agenda setting and decision-making and is evidenced by higher levels of trust.


The Georgia C.A.F.E. Model for Authentic Stakeholder Engagement is a powerful testament of what can happen when people step out of their traditional rows and move into circles. Standing for “Circles of Adults Focusing on Education,” C.A.F.E.s bring together persons of authority with persons of influence to truly listen to one another with the intention of creating a shared understanding around complex education issues.

Youth voices are often not heard or respected by adults. DC Youth Leadership Network creates opportunities for youth to experience, learn and lead in a supportive environment and safe space.

The purpose of the Family and Community Engagement Center (FCERC) project is to build partnerships between parents and educators to ensure that children with disabilities receive the highest educational opportunities and achievement possible.

Home Works! trains, supports and pays teachers to conduct home visits, and is designed to improve academic achievement, attendance and classroom behavior.

The state of Maryland prioritizes family engagement.  The Maryland State Department of Education supports and is a key member of the Maryland Family Engagement Coalition.  This Coalition advocates in a unified voice for family engagement policies and practices in the state of Maryland and has dev

The Georgia Parent Mentor Partnership is parents and professionals working together to improve outcomes for students with disabilities by enhancing communication and collaboration between families, educators and the community.

One strategy Minneapolis Public Schools employs is to empower parents from non-dominant cultures to lead evaluation efforts. Fifty one trained Parent Evaluators gather input from families who may be less inclined to share their perspectives with the school district.

Several programs and strategies implemented by the Poway Unified School District are highlighted in this Continuum Practice to show the benefits of taking a comprehensive and systemic approach to family engagement.

The Sacramento SELPA contracts with an Independent Facilitator to provide consultation and support to both educators and families to work effectively together and arrive at a mutually agreeable outcome.

The Connecticut School-Family-Community Partnerships Project helps educators, parents and community members develop partnerships by providing training, topical workshops, a newsletter, and a collection of books, videos and other resources.
Sharing the Commitment to Excellence is a collaborative project that has been created to foster effective partnerships between parents, schools, and the community.
The Special Education Citizens Advisory Committee and Howard County Publc School System encourage and welcome parent involvement in every phase of a child's educational journey. In the area of special education, parent involvement is crucial.

Stakeholder training is aimed at equipping stakeholders - parents, educators, service providers, advocates and others - with skills that enhance their capacity to communicate, negotiate and prevent conflict from escalating. A wide variety of topics may be included in the training curriculum and the learning setting can vary from short workshops provided to small groups, to all-day courses provided at state-wide conferences. 


ASPIRE promotes self-determination and self-advocacy skills to prepare students for educational, career, and independent living decisions that they will need to make in adulthood.

In 2013, the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) recognized the need for more options to 1) prevent IEPs from moving into contentious and costly dispute processes, and 2) improve outcomes for students. As a result, the Alternative Dispute Resolution Advisory Board was formed to explore possible options. Ultimately, IEP Facilitation was the highly-promising practice that Colorado decided to pursue.

CDE provides trainings for IEP team members interested in improving their conflict resolution and facilitation skills and now also offers state-sponsored IEP facilitations. For more information on their state-sponsored IEP facilitation program, see their IEP Facilitation Continuum Practice.

The goal of Connecticut’s Parent Advocacy Center’s (CPAC) intensive parent leadership training program is for participants to become active and collaborative team members to support student success.

The Office for Dispute Resolution has provided conflict resolution training since 2002. More recently, in 2008, ODR joined a national effort led by CADRE and the IDEA Partnership to build capacity for early dispute resolution by implementing “Creating Agreement in Special Education: Conflict Resolution Training for Parents and Educators”. ODR has been the lead state in the nation for its investment in delivering Creating Agreement training to school and family communities across the commonwealth, and has trained in excess of 2,000 participants.

The California Department of Education (CDE) finds that the Alternative Dispute Resolution process is a desirable and effective practice that supports positive interactions and collaboration among parents and educators and the resolution of special education conflicts.

It’s My Turn (IMT) training is a self-determination curriculum for students with disabilities in middle school through high school who have more intensive needs.

The goal of PACER’s parent leadership training program is to build the capacity of parents to advocate for educational systems change and give parents the tools they need to lead systems change at the local and state levels.

The Partners Resource Network (PRN) designed a Parent Leadership Training Program specifically for parents of children with disabilities who are passionate about helping other parents understand the IEP/ARD process.

“RESPECT”, an acronym for ‘Recognizing Everyone's Strengths by Peacebuilding, Empathizing, Communicating and Trustbuilding’, addresses conflict in its relational context and has been taught to special education administrators, educators, service providers, parents and others throughout Iowa for over fourteen years. The primary goal of this program is to enhance learning for students receiving special education services by respectfully and creatively building and growing relationships between educators and family members of IEP teams.
The Connecticut School-Family-Community Partnerships Project helps educators, parents and community members develop partnerships by providing training, topical workshops, a newsletter, and a collection of books, videos and other resources.
Learning or refreshing collaborative communication and dispute resolution skills can help parents and educators work together effectively for the benefit of children with disabilities. These skills can help improve the quality of Individualized Family Service Plans (IFSPs), Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), resolution meetings, and mediation sessions.

The SPAN Resource Parent (SRP) Program is an intensive training program designed to educate volunteers to help parents of children with disabilities and special healthcare needs to understand their rights and responsibilities under federal and state laws.

A variety of trainings and coaching activities for parents, mentors, advocates and educators have been developed and offered over the past ten years. The training topic areas include communication, conflict resolution, problem-solving, dealing with difficult dynamics, effective IEP meeting strategies, and how to facilitate IEP meetings.

Since 2009, the Special Education Resolution Center (SERC) has been offering stakeholder training and support to educators and parents so they can productively manage conflict to best meet the needs of students with disabilities. A key goal of the SERC is “to help schools and families resolve issues at the earliest stage possible.” To further this goal, SERC utilizes several mechanisms to build local-level capacity, including in person and online stakeholder trainings, a monthly webinar series, SERC newsletter, and more. SERC provides various options for stakeholder training on communication and conflict resolution, such as “Crucial Conversations for Mastering Dialogue”, “Essential Skills for Engaging in Conflict”, and the “SERC Professional Development Series.”

Student-led Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) allow students with disabilities to take a meaningful role in the special education planning process.

The Training of the parent member of the CPSE/CSE is a professional development workshop designed to assist all parent members of the CPSE/CSE in building their base of knowledge about the Committee process and to fulfill their role on the Committee as defined by New York State regulations.

In 2016, the Council on Developmental Disabilities launched a new partnership with TN's Centers for Independent Living (CILs) on a multi-year initiative to provide training to transition-aged youth across the state.

A Stakeholder Council advises education system administrators and dispute resolution program managers on the development of policies and procedures that regulate the system. Such councils provide ongoing input from a variety of perspectives to help guide and influence the functioning and improvement of dispute resolution systems. The group typically includes representatives from parent and advocacy organizations, special education administrators, attorneys, and dispute resolution practitioners. In some cases, a stakeholder council is a sub-committee of the state’s special education advisory committee; in other cases it is a free-standing entity. 


An Advisory Council has been established to provide input, from the viewpoints of various stakeholders, on the development of policies and procedures that regulate mediation and the due process hearing system. The policies and procedures formulated by the Special Education Resolution Center, with the advice of the Council, will be presented to the Oklahoma State Department of Education as a recommendation for positive change.
The Dispute Resolution Committee is a special education stakeholder group that meets periodically to review ODE's due process hearing decisions, complaint resolutions, and mediation activities. The Committee also reviews Department policies & procedures related to dispute resolution and makes recommendations to the Department.
The Special Education Citizens Advisory Committee and Howard County Publc School System encourage and welcome parent involvement in every phase of a child's educational journey. In the area of special education, parent involvement is crucial.
The Stakeholders’ Council in Wisconsin provides an example of a strategy designed to transform a culture of conflict (fragmentation and distrust) into a culture of collaboration.
The State Advisory Panel (SAP) subcommittee for dispute resolution reviews dispute resolution data and recent due process hearing decisions. The SAP subcommittee also reviews data related to formal complaints and discusses common themes of the complaints occurring throughout the state. 

Collaborative Rulemaking was developed as an effort to build consensus among interested stakeholders regarding state special education regulations and procedures. Sometimes referred to as negotiated rulemaking or regulatory negotiations, it is an alternative to the development of rules in isolation and subsequent solicitation of input through a public process. The purpose of bringing stakeholders together is to improve understanding of diverse perspectives, to identify significant issues of concern, to generate policy options, and to develop consensus on policy recommendations reflective of stakeholder needs. Collaboration fosters creativity, increases credibility, legitimacy and trust, and facilitates the regulatory process. 


A series of consensus-building sessions in Wisconsin with a small group of 7 stakeholders appointed by the state superintendent with the aim of trying to reach consensus on realigning Wisconsin special education law (Chapter 115) with IDEA 2004 before the bill moves forward to a public hearing.
The Maine Department of Education abandoned their traditional rule-making process when it revised the Maine Special Education Regulations to be consistent with IDEA '97. Rather than developing rules in isolation and subsequently soliciting input through a public process, the Department invited a group of stakeholders including parents, advocates and school personnel to take part in a collaborative rule-making process also known as negotiated rule making or regulatory negotiations.
The Special Education Rule Committee’s purpose is to examine Arizona Special Education State Board 401 rules, to propose rules that are clear, instructive, and aligned to the IDEA, and to provide guidance for implementation.