At each IEP meeting I was given a small booklet that described a parent's procedural safeguards under IDEA. To be honest, I never actually read through it. I always trusted school staff and assumed that the teachers and therapists would do all they could to meet my children's specific needs. The district staff never took the time to go over the procedural safeguards document with me and I never realized exactly how important knowing your rights could be.
Then, at my last IEP meeting, I was told that my daughter Holly had only made one month of progress in reading during the previous twelve months time and that she was falling farther and farther behind.
During her IEP meeting I asked for some additional intervention from the school reading specialist, but was told the reading specialist was already seeing too many children and did not have any additional time available to spend with my daughter. The school staff told me that Holly would just have to make due with the small group instruction she was getting in the special ed classroom.
I really didn't know what to say. Luckily I talked to other parents and they recommended that I attend a seminar sponsored by our district's special needs PTA. A representative from our state's Parent Information Center was there as well as two attorneys who explained, step by step, all of the parent rights described in that little book that I had previously never read.
It was there that I learned the three most important words that a parent of a child with disabilities needs to know: "Prior Written Notice." I had heard district staff use this term once in a while, and thought that it only meant that the district had to give you 10 days notice before scheduling an IEP meeting. It actually means a whole lot more.
At the special needs PTA meeting I learned that Prior Written Notice means that when a school district adds, changes, or denies educational services to your child, they must explain to the parent in writing why the services are being added, changed, or denied. If the school district is denying your services, they most likely will not provide you prior written notice voluntarily — you will have to ask them to do it.
I have found that my state's Parent Training and Information Center and our District's Special Needs PTA can be extremely valuable resources. In my situation, the school district took our concerns more seriously when we requested them to give us Prior Written Notice concerning why my request for time with the reading specialist was being denied.
The district ended up re-evaluating her reading skills and assigned a reading specialist to coach her teacher on how to better teach to my daughter. It's not exactly what I wanted, but it's a start. I'm hopeful that the district will agree with me and get my daughter the additional help she needs. In the meantime, we are using a private tutoring service to supplement her instruction.
I'm sure my story isn't all that unique but I can't emphasize enough how important it is to know your rights under IDEA — especially those three words: Prior Written Notice. They can make some powerful things happen for you that might change the outcome for your child. Hang in there - you are not alone.
Listen to the "A Parent's Perspective — Prior Written Notice" podcast today!