The U.S. Department of Education, as required under IDEA 2004, has published model forms for procedural safeguards notice [Download modelform-safeguards.doc], forms for IEPs [Download modelform-iep.doc] and prior written notice [Download modelform-notice.doc]. While these forms are models and that does not make them mandatory, it could be argued that a significant departure is in violation of the law. I am particularly interested in the form for prior written notice.
Prior written notice is the provision in the law that requires schools to explain in writing the basis for its decision to initiate an action or refusal to initiate an action on issues related to placement, eligibility among others. This provision has been in the law for many years, and I find it as one of the most commonly violated provisions of the law. The intent of this provision is fairly simple; if the school intends to take an action or refuses to take an action it should at a minimum explain itself to the parents.
As most parents know, schools are not always real keen on explaining anything to parents. Decisions are issued from the "team" too often without any real discussion or explanation. Prior written notice does not mean that schools have to accept a parents proposal, but it does mean the school should explain in writing the rationale basis for the rejection.
Well up to now I have had frequent arguments over this provision. In some cases the school district's counsel confuses the issue on purpose pointing to the fact that notice of meeting was given which is different form of notice and not a replacement for prior written notice. The next variety is the school district that knows the case is going into due process and wants to keep its options open to change positions, as the occasion arises, and therefore refuses to give prior written notice. Typically the school will argue that the the entire IEP or a large stack of student records constitutes prior written notice; or, put another way your answer is in the stack of paper you go find it.
The following are among the reasons parents should insist on the use of the model form or something quite similar:
- to understand the district's position and to judge whether you have any realistic chance to challenge it;
- to be able to seek out evaluations or other data to come back at future meetings and re-engage with the school;
- to not feel that school is acting in an arbitrary manner, even if you disagree with the decision;
- to make the school district stake out a position that will be difficult for it to later disavow.
These model forms are a significant step in the right direction and can be very effective advocacy tools.