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IEP Issues - Prior Written Notice

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One easy and effective strategy available to parents who disagree with a school about special education for their child is to request that the school (or school district) notify the parents in writing of all proposed changes in, or refusals to change, their child’s special educational program. IDEA regulations (34 C.F.R. Sec. 300.503) require a school to give parents written notice a reasonable time before it acts regarding their child’s identification, evaluation or educational placement. Though required, prior written notice is rarely given unless parents request it.

Whenever a school proposes such a change, or refuses to make a change that the parents want, parents should request, in writing, that the school provide them with prior written notice. Likewise, when the IEP team cannot agree on an issue pertaining to a student’s educational program or IEP, the school must provide the parents prior written notice of its proposals and/or refusals. The change cannot be made (or refused) until a reasonable period after the parents are notified in writing. Parents have the right to have disagreements resolved at a due process hearing.

Prior written notice is important for several reasons. (1) It provides detailed information that helps parents understand why there is a disagreement. (2) It explains what information was considered prior to the school’s decision and allows parents to decide if additional information needs to be considered. (3) It serves as evidence if a due process hearing is needed to resolve disputes. (4) It discourages bad decisions and prejudice by requiring all reasons to be in writing.

The school’s prior written notice must include all of the following:

* A description of the action proposed or refused by the school;

* An explanation of why the school proposes or refuses to take the action;

* A description of any other options that the school considered and the reasons why those options were rejected;

* A description of each evaluation procedure, test, record, or report the school used as a basis for the proposed or refused action;

* A description of any other factors that are relevant to the school’s proposal or refusal;

* A statement that the parents are protected by procedural safeguards under IDEA (that is, the school must follow certain procedures in providing special education to their child) and how they can obtain a description of the safeguards; and

* Sources where parents can obtain assistance in understanding the prior written notice requirement.

* The notice must be understandable and in the language or mode of communication used by the parent.

advocacy tip: If you think there may be disagreement at an IEP meeting, take a letter like the one below with you so you can request prior written notice on all points of disagreement at the end of the meeting. Be sure to note your request on the IEP and attach a copy of your letter to the IEP.

This information packet has been prepared based on the law at the time it was written. Future changes in the law may make some information incorrect. Please feel free to contact the Help Line for updates. This fact sheet is not intended to be legal advice. P&A does not discriminate on the basis of disability, race, gender, or national origin in the provision of its programs or services. Pete Cantrell is P&A’s designated coordinator for Sec. 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act. MAY 2001, ED-21

sample letter

TO: [school or district representative present at meeting]

FROM: [your name]

DATE: [date]

RE: [your child’s name, child’s date of birth]

In response to the following proposals or refusals made by your agency, I am hereby requesting that you provide me with prior written notice in accordance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. 1415(b)(3), 34 C.F.R. 300.503:

[List each matter or issue with which you disagree, being as specific as possible]

[EXAMPLES: 1. refusal to place my child in special education

2. proposal to place my child in a self-contained classroom

3. refusal to use my child’s doctor’s report in determining placement

4. proposal to take my child out of special education

5. refusal to provide tutor] 


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