Why is it necessary for parents to learn how to create a legal paper trail?
Because the IEP is a legal process, it is founded upon documentation. The IEP is a legally binding contract, and the school district is obligated to implement exactly what is written in the IEP, nothing more and nothing less.
If you don’t learn how to write letters and emails as well as very specific parent-generated responses to the offer of special education programming in your child’s IEP, you will have very little chance of being successful in your advocacy efforts to meet the needs of your child. This is the gravity of parent-generated documentation.
Parent-generated documentation is the missing link in successful parent advocacy. You can be a parent who is extremely knowledgeable about IDEA yet be unsuccessful in getting the IEP you want for your child and not understand why. The answer is simple, it’s all because you don’t have the documentation you need to prevail.
One of the district’s main strategies to deny children what they need is to purposefully document things in the IEP in a very generic and nonspecific manner so they can never be legally held accountable!
But there’s a remedy to this problem and that is parent response letters. These letters serve to correct, amend, and specify all the details the district omitted from the IEP document, creating a legal paper trail that will give you the success you are looking for.
The district documents only what the state fundamentally requires on the IEP document, and they write it in a way that protects them from liability.
They fail to document IEP team discussions, agreements, and decisions. They fail to document parent requests and concerns. When a parent creates a legal paper trail that correctly documents the real facts based on data and IDEA mandates, it holds the district accountable to state timelines and federal obligations.
Parent-generated documentation that creates a legal paper trail is the most effective advocacy strategy a parent can learn. Once a parent has knowledge of their rights under state and federal law, they must apply those rights by creating a legal paper trail, which becomes evidence to support the parent’s position.
Creating a legal paper trail does not mean just taking notes during an IEP meeting! These documents are very specific forms of documentation which include:
- Parent Agenda
- Parent Statement
- Parent Response to the IEP
- Parent Response to a PWN
- Parent emails/letters to document requests and concerns
So now, let’s break each document down so you can understand how to craft them correctly and efficiently.
1. Parent Agenda
Use a bullet point format and keep it simple. Don’t be long and wordy on the Parent Agenda. Your parent response to the IEP is where you can be more specific and include facts and details.
Include all your requests and parental concerns. At the top of your parent agenda, write – Parent Agenda and your child’s name, and the date of the IEP meeting. Under that heading, write, “I am requesting this parent agenda be included and page numbered into the IEP.”
Provide a copy of the Parent Agenda to the IEP team prior to the meeting. This isn’t a “gotcha” opportunity. You want the team to be fully informed about what you want to discuss during the meeting. Otherwise, they can tell you, “We are not prepared to discuss that as we were not informed prior to the meeting.” You don’t want to have to reconvene to discuss something that was left out of the Parent Agenda.
Additionally, when you frontload the district of your requests, if the Parent Agenda includes an issue that is not currently a part of the IEP, the district can invite a representative from that specific discipline or get authorization or additional information from an administrator prior to the meeting. This saves time and can avoid the need to reconvene.
If you called the IEP, then this is your meeting and therefore, your agenda should be followed. If the district called the IEP meeting, they must include your parent agenda and embed the issues you’ve listed into the district agenda.
If the IEP team ran out of time before reviewing your parent agenda items, they must schedule a continuation meeting in order to discuss and give you the opportunity to present your parent concerns and requests. This is the law under Parent Participation rights.
Don’t let them disregard your agenda issues. If you let them, they will. If they didn’t fully discuss and come to a decision or resolution regarding your requests and concerns, you have the right to ask that a continuation meeting be calendared as soon as possible.
2. Parent Statement
There is a “Parent Concerns and Priorities” section of the IEP that is included on every Annual IEP document. If the meeting is not an Annual IEP, you still have the right to present your parent requests and concerns and have them documented in the IEP.
Write a statement that factually and specifically includes your concerns and requests. Keep it as short and concise as possible. You don’t want to offer a 6-page Parent Statement. However, you do want to include data and IDEA regulations to support your position.
Think of it as if you were presenting your evidence to a judge as precisely and specifically as possible with the intention of convincing them to approve your requests. “Just the facts ma’am” is the best rule of thumb.
The Parent Statement is another powerful way for you to create a legal paper trail in your efforts to hold them accountable to provide FAPE. All parent requests will trigger the need for the district to provide a PWN, which will either approve or deny your requests.
3. Parent Response to the IEP or Partial Consent (depending upon your state)
Whether your state allows a parent response letter to the IEP or a Partial Consent to the IEP, it should include the same information.
For states that require parent signature, which are California, Massachusetts, Montana, and Virginia, you will write a Partial Consent to the IEP and the district’s offer of FAPE. A partial consent is essentially signing the IEP “with exception.” Your Partial Consent letter will list detailed facts and evidence as to why you are dissenting to those specific issues.
All other 46 states do not require a parent’s signature other than the initial IEP. On subsequent IEPs following the initial IEP, there is no parent signature required before the district has the authority to automatically implement the IEP. For these 46 states, you will write a parent response to the IEP.
If you don’t agree with the IEP, parents have the opportunity to present and resolve complaints through the due process complaint and state complaint procedures. Check your state’s Procedural Safeguards for timelines regarding filing for due process or a state compliance complaint.
Both forms of the parent response letter should include all issues in dissent. You should substantiate the dissent by citing violations the district incurred and data to support what you are requesting.
Example: Request to increase Speech services ~
- Lack of necessary goals to address areas of deficit identified through assessment and standardized test scores.
- Lack of progress as evidenced through goals and/or assessment standardized scores, parent testimony or outside providers.
- You should include IEE recommendations or may need to obtain a comprehensive IEE to gain the evidence to have the district agree to your request.
4. Parent Response to a PWN
If you disagree with the PWN, state your reasons why you disagree. This would essentially include the same information as required for Response to IEP or the Partial Consent.
5. Parent emails/letters to document requests and concerns
Parents, please don’t be afraid to communicate with your IEP team! Learn to communicate with your team through emails and letters. Doing this will not only assist you in creating a legal paper trail but can possibly resolve issues without having to bring them to an IEP meeting.
All documentation creates evidence of the date you made a request, which triggers mandated timelines that requires the district to act accordingly. When the district violates a state timeline, write an email to document that violation.
Whether it be a concern about behavior, progress on goals, homework, bullying, etc., your concern has now become a legal paper trail. This legal paper trail holds the district accountable and increases your chances to prevail in a Compliance Complaint or possible due process and helps in achieving successful advocacy during IEP meetings.
Do you need training on how to create a legal paper trail?
My Parent Training provides you templates for all of the above. I train parents how to write these documents specific to their child’s IEP, which creates a legal paper trail. I do this by reviewing your child’s records, IEP documents, and assessment reports.
When a parent begins to create these types of documents and writes them in a very specific way, I can pretty much guarantee that you will begin to see a more successful outcome in response to your advocacy efforts.
Creating the legal paper trail through documentation is the same advocacy strategy I have used for my clients for the past 25 years. Because of a legal paper trail, I have been able to prevail in winning what students need, without filing for due process. However, State Compliance Complaints are an advocacy staple that is very necessary in making this happen. My parent training will teach you the essential missing advocacy link of parent-generated documentation.
In closing, Parent Generated Documentation enables YOU to beat them at their own game of omission and attrition. By that I mean, the district purposefully omits vital information on the IEP document, and they use attrition to wear parents down, hoping they will give up and stop advocating for their child.
Creating a strong legal paper trail forces the district to replace their same old excuses, double-talk, and misinformation, with real legal evidence that holds them accountable to providing FAPE for your child.
When a parent learns how to correctly write these specific forms of documentation, then YOU become the advocate for your OWN child. You won’t have to hire an advocate or attorney because it’s the SAME advocacy steps advocates and attorneys use to win what students need!
You will be required to advocate for your child until they either graduate high school or move on after they have attended the adult transition program. Don’t you think it would behoove you to learn and master the missing link in becoming a strong advocate for your child?
Are you ready to beat the district at their own game and ensure your child receives the education they need and deserve?
Cheering you on always!
If you haven’t joined our Private Special Education Parent Empowerment Facebook Group yet, you should check it out here.
Here’s what parents are saying about the group:
“Thank you for sharing your knowledge, Valerie! This world needs more people willing to speak the truth.” – Elizabeth
“Today is a pretty big win for my daughter and I, two years into the process, the district has finally agreed on a 1:1. Thank you Valerie and everyone else on this page for your wealth of knowledge and support! I know it’s not over, but it’s progress!”
– Kris Kar
Valerie Aprahamian is a special education advocate, IEP strategist, and speaker. She speaks on behalf of parents to protect the rights of neurodiverse children to receive the supports they need in public school.