Right to receive prior written notice
Parental rights under IDEA include the right to receive prior written notice from the school each time that the school proposes to take (or refuses to take) certain actions with respect to your child. Specifically, the school must provide parents with prior written notice each time that it:
- proposes to initiate or change the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of your child;
- proposes to initiate or change the provision of FAPE to your child (that’s a free appropriate public education);
- refuses to initiate or change the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of your child;
- refuses to initiate or change the provision of FAPE to your child.
PURPOSE OF PRIOR WRITTEN NOTICE
Prior written notice serves as a vehicle of communication between schools and families. It is very important that parents are always well informed about whatever action the school intends to take (or intends not to take) about their child. Through prior written notice, the school can ensure that parents are up to date on what it’s proposing or refusing to do, as early as possible so that parents can participate in the school’s proposed actions or respond to its refusals.
CONTENT OF THE PRIOR WRITTEN NOTICE
Prior written notice must contain a comprehensive description of the action proposed (or refused) by the school system. According to IDEA, the notice must include:
1 | a description of the action proposed or refused by the school;
2 | an explanation of why the school proposes or refuses to take the action;
3 | a description of each evaluation procedure, assessment, record, or report the school used as a basis for their decision;
4 | a statement that the parents of a child with a disability have protection under the procedural safeguards and, how the parents can obtain a copy of them;
5 | sources for parents to contact to obtain assistance in understanding these provisions;
6 | a description of other options that the IEP Team considered and the reasons why those options were rejected; and
7 | a description of other factors relevant to the school’s proposal or refusal. [§300.503(b)]
WHEN PARENTS SHOULD RECEIVE PRIOR WRITTEN NOTICE
As we’ve said, you, as parents, must receive prior written notice from the school a reasonable time before the school plans to take (or refuses to take) actions related to the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of your child. Parents should also receive prior written notice a reasonable time before the school plans to take (or refuses to take) actions related to the provision of FAPE to your child.
For example, you must receive this notice:
—when the school would like to conduct an initial evaluation of your child;
—when you’ve asked for your child to be evaluated and the school denies your request;
—when the school wants to begin or change your child’s identification as a “child with a disability”;
—when the school proposes or refuses a particular educational placement for your child;
—when the school wants to change your child’s educational placement;
—when the school wants to change aspects of the special education or related services that your child is receiving; and
—when the school refuses a request from you, as parents, with respect to the educational services your child is receiving.
If there’s an occasion when the school must give you prior written notice, and it fails to do so, you can ask for them to provide prior written notice. You can also ask for prior written notice to be provided to you if the school has informed you of actions it plans or refuses to take in a phone call, in a meeting, or as part of a conversation. These last aren’t written, you see. The advantage of asking for the school to provide you with prior written notice is that you will receive a detailed explanation in writing of the decision the school has made (or refuses to make) in relation to your child. This includes the reasons by which the school reached its decision.
PRIOR WRITTEN NOTICE VIA EMAIL
IDEA states that a parent of a child with a disability may elect to receive prior written notice via email, if the school makes this option available.
HOW PRIOR WRITTEN NOTICE IS TO BE WRITTEN
All written correspondence from the school must be in a form that the general public can understand. For example, it must be written in the native language of the parent, if the parent does not read English, or in the mode of communication that the parent normally uses, such as Braille or large-print, unless it is clearly not feasible to do so.
If the parents’ native language or other mode of communication is not a written language, the school must take steps to ensure:
- that the prior written notice is translated orally (or by other means) to the parent in his or her native language or other mode of communication; and
- that the parent understands the content of the notice. [§300.503(c)(2)]
EXAMPLE OF PRIOR WRITTEN NOTICE
For those who’d love to see an example of prior written notice, you’ll be pleased to hear there’s a Model Form available that was prepared by the U.S. Department of Education. The Model Form is designed to guide states and schools in developing their own prior written notices. Find the Department’s Model Form at: https://sites.ed.gov/idea/files/modelform2_Prior_Written_Notice.pdf