An extremely important--yet often underutilized--document in the special education process is the Prior Written Notice. In the realm of special education, Prior Written Notice is a tool for getting things in writing. A vital implement for both parents and schools, some confusion remains about when, why and how to use it.
What is it?
Prior Written Notice is a safeguard provided by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act under 34 CFR Sec. 300.503. It must include:
• a description of any action the school district proposes or refuses to take
• an explanation of why
• a summary of the evaluations, assessments, and records referenced or proposed to make their decision
• a list of any alternatives that were considered and the reasons they were rejected
• a description of the overall reasons why the listed action is being proposed or refused
When is it used?
The Prior Written Notice is to be given to parents in a “reasonable” time frame before making any significant changes in the special education services and supports a child receives. It can be given during an IEP meeting or anytime during the year. If it is not given during an IEP meeting, it commonly precedes the gathering of the team to review the IEP and possibly modify it.
Examples of proposed/refused actions include:
• evaluating a student for special education
• changing a student’s eligibility category
• providing extended school year services
• exiting a student from special education
• changing the student’s educational placement
• changing the amount of time a student receives physical/speech/occupational therapy
• conducting an independent educational evaluation at public expense
Why is it used?
Plain and simple, the Prior Written Notice helps ensure proper communication, decision-making and accountability. Parents should request a PWN during an IEP meeting if they have requested a certain action, whether or not the school verbally agrees. If the team agrees, then there will be proper written justification for the action they propose to take. District staff can utilize this documentation to allocate necessary resources to implement the action. Conversely, if there is poor justification for the action, district staff can further evaluate the action to determine if it is appropriate. If the school refuses a particular action, the parents will have this refusal in writing and can proceed to the next step in the dispute resolution process.
The Prior Written Notice is a very important safeguard and extremely useful in helping the IEP team make appropriate decisions regarding special education services and supports. Working together to consider the pros and cons of a given action is a common strategy. The key is to remember that the Prior Written Notice exists as a resource, that it is required by IDEA, and that sometimes it must be requested by parents in order to be included in the IEP process.
For more information about Prior Written Notice, please see the links on the homepage.