[ABCs of SPED] P is for Prior Written Notice

abcs of sped Jun 21, 2018

Do you ever have those moments where you really want to focus but you just can't? Bear with me as today is that day. Earlier this week I became an aunt to a beautiful new baby girl! We've been busy hosting family, dropping off meals, and smelling that sweet baby's head for hours at a time. 

Even so, I don't want to leave you hanging for our P in the ABCs of SPED series. This P is one of the most important, and often unfamiliar, concepts for parents in the special education process.

P is for Prior Written Notice (also abbreviated as PWN).

What is this? 

I.D.E.A. legislation states that,

"The school district must give you a written notice whenever the school district: (1) Proposes to begin or change the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of your child or the provision of a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to your child; or (2) Refuses to begin or change the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of your child or the provision of FAPE to your child."

You read that correctly! The school is required to give you written notice of any proposed changes or rejected changes as they relate to your child's identification, evaluation, placement, or provision of FAPE (free, appropriate, public education).

So where does the "prior" come in? The school team is required to give this written notice BEFORE any changes or refusals go into effect. This means that prior written notice is typically given after an IEP meeting, but before the IEP must be implemented.

Remember, you have a number of days to sign the IEP before it goes into effect. I recommend NEVER signing an IEP during or the day of the meeting, and waiting to sign the IEP until you have received a copy of the Prior Written Notice and have reviewed it for accuracy.

You might now be wondering what must be included on a Prior Written Notice form. The requirement for Prior Written Notice states that schools must provide the following (from ed.gov):

  1. A description of the action that the school district proposes or refuses to take
  2. An explanation of why the school district is proposing or refusing to take that action
  3. A description of each evaluation procedure, assessment, record, or report the school district used in deciding to propose or refuse the action
  4. A description of any other choices that the Individualized Education Program (IEP) Team considered and the reasons why those choices were rejected
  5. A description of other reasons why the school district proposed or refused the action
  6. Resources for the parents to contact for help in understanding Part B of the IDEA

This means that a PWN form should be thorough. I often see them and they look just like a single page of minutes describing the meeting. This is often NOT acceptable. An accurate Prior Written Notice form must provide evidence for numbers 1-5 above for EVERY proposed change or refused changed discussed at the meeting.

This means that if you ask for something (like an assistive technology device or an increase in service time) and the school says no, they must provide a justification in writing while hitting on all 5 of the bullet points above. If you've listed 10 requests in your parent concerns, all 10 refusals of those requests must be written out on the Prior Written Notice. 

Why does this matter? Documentation is crucial if you ever get into a situation where you need to file a complaint or initiate due process. I hope you never do! But if you end up there, it's easy for it to become a "he said, she said" situation. Having a copy of the Prior Written Notice that outlines what you asked, what was granted or refused, and why is exceedingly helpful.

Your homework? At your next meeting:

  • Ask for anything you request that they deny to be included in the Prior Written Notice (even if it's "tabled" for another time)
  • Ask for any changes that they suggest to be included in the Prior Written Notice
  • Let them know that you will not sign the IEP until you receive a copy of the Prior Written Notice and have had a chance to review it

Your other homework is to learn a bit more about PWN and how it can be used and leveraged. I'd suggest checking out this article from Wrightslaw and this article from The Center for Parent Information and Resources. And as always, PLEASE check your Procedural Safeguards booklet for information about Prior Written Notice in your state-- there may even be a sample template in there for you to look at.

Have you ever had issues with PWN? Share in our IEP Guru Facebook Group!

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