Prior Written Notice is one of the most powerful tools parents have for helping educate children with disabilities but it is often overlooked. The purpose of this document is to help parents understand how this tool can be used and provide enough background on the law to allow parents to make sure they are able to assert this important right.
Prior Written Notice is the requirement that the District must provide a written explanation of any change or proposed change to the critical components of the education of a child with a disability – including a change requested but denied – and the District must explain in writing why the change was proposed or denied.
The specific wording and citations in the Delaware and US code can be found at the end of this posting but Pete Wright, from the Wrightslaw organization, nets out the Prior Written Notice in his new book on IDEA 2004 like this:
Prior Written Notice (PWN)
- If the school proposes to change or refuses to change the childs identification, evaluation, educational placement, or other matters related to providing FAPE, the school is required to provide the parent with detailed Prior Written Notice (PWN). This Notice must:
- describe the action proposed or refused
- explain why the school proposed or refused to take action
- describe each evaluation procedure, assessment, record, or report used as a basis for the proposed or refused action
- provide sources the parent can contact to obtain assistance
- describe other options considered and why these options were rejected
- describe the factors that were relevant to the schools proposal or refusal
Wright, Peter W.D, Wright, Pamela Darr. (2005). Wrightslaw: IDEA 2004 Parts A and B, Harbor House Law Press.
Prior Written Notice answers Why
Prior Written Notice is more than a written “yes/no” response. The Prior Written Notice statute not only forces the District to provide a written answer to a request, it forces the District to explain why they are taking the action. For example, if you believe your child needs additional time with the Speech and Language Pathologist and the District refuses the request, the law says the District must explain their reasoning – including the assessments and measures that led them to their conclusion as well as what other options were considered. It is often very difficult to challenge a District answer in and of itself. Just about any answer is valid in the under the right circumstances. It is often the reason for the answer that you need in order to challenge the answer itself.
Why get it in writing?
- Often, people will give a verbal answer “off the top of their head” without researching the question or considering the consequences of the answer. Forcing people to write the answer down usually makes them stop and think.
- A written answer is usually more clear – or at the very least can initiate a dialogue for clarification. A verbal answer can be misunderstood or even misleading.
- Formally collecting all key discussions on your child’s education helps protect your child. By having a formal, written history of exchanges with the school, you will have the paper trail, the proof you will need if confusion or a dispute arises. Don’t get into a he said/she said argument – just produce the written document.
- The best way to avoid a Due Process hearing is to be prepared to win one. As you create the correspondence paper trail, imagine you are going to submit everything to the Due Process hearing officers without additional comments. Make sure the paper trail will stand on its own to tell the story. Use Prior Written Notice to pull all the facts together and make sure the entire story will be told.
How to use Prior Written Notice
Like any tool, Prior Written Notice is most effective if used correctly. Here are some suggestions:\
- Always, always, always, write it down. Any question, compliment, complaint, request for clarification, correction to IEP meeting minutes, anything important should be written down. You need to begin with a written request if you expect to get a written response.
- If you are having trouble with either getting the written response or the written response with details on “why”, use the magic words “Prior Written Notice”. Again, make sure the request is in writing. Even if the person you are working with does not understand what that means, they can find out. You always can quote from the Page 3 of the Notice of Procedural Safeguards that the District gave you. To make it easy, just cut and paste the exact wording from the excerpt below.
- If you still can’t get written clarification after trying and re-trying, check out page 10 of the Notice of Procedural Safeguards for information about filing a State Complaint to Delaware’s Department of Education. A State Complaint can be filed if you believe your child’s rights have been violated – in this case the denial of Prior Written Notice. DOE must investigate the allegation get back to you with the results within 60 days. If you have 3 or 4 written requests over several weeks asking for Prior Written Notice information and the District has not provided the information, there is not much to the investigation.
- On Delaware Department of Education IEP Form Page there are links to these two forms: Prior Written Notice Form (Word) and the Prior Written Notice FAQ’s
- Prior Written Notice Information Sheet from Families and Advocates Partnership for Education (FAPE).
- Procedural Safeguards page from wrightslaw.com
- Communicating with Your Child’s School Through Letter Writing has good sample letters to school and outlines key points that you should include. Page 14 has an example of a letter requesting Prior Written Notice. It is from the National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities (NICHCY)
- The Paper Trails, Letter Writing and Documentaion page from wrightslaw.com has lots of links to articles about the specialized technique of writing letters to school on behalf of your child with disabilities.