Get it in Writing

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A. This is actually the Advocacy Tip of the year. If you have learned nothing else from this website or our manuals, you should have learned that you need to make sure your communications with your school and your state education agency are in writing.

This writer is often told by school persons “you are a lawyer and you want it in writing so you can sue.” Wrong. In more than 30 years experience with school districts it is the lack of written documentation that leads to lawsuits. Written documentation usually leads toward compliance with the law.

If you interact with your school or state education agency, and they respond but will not “put it in writing” then you should create a document, state that this is what was said to you that day (or as soon after as you can put it in writing), send it certified mail, and also direct that it be placed in your child’s permanent file. It certainly qualifies as an “educational record” under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and under the IDEA.

Your creation of a written record will usually cause the school district or state education agency to reconsider their response. Your document should say “the special ed director” or “the state education agency complaint investigator” told me something over the phone today but would not put it in writing. And then state as clearly as you can what they said.

That not only creates a record that they will have to respond to, but it also creates a document that might make all the difference later. We hope you do not end up in court, but this writer has been in many situations where three years later the most important issue in the trial turns out to be the conversation between the parent and the school official. What actually did the parent ask and what actually did the school person tell them? The school person prepares to testify about their recollection (refreshed, of course, by a recent session with the school board attorney) but their testimony is then blocked by one or more of several court rules that the “best evidence” of that conversation is the parent’s written memorandum, made contemporaneously at the time of that conversation three years ago. Your document becomes the sole record.

We assume you contract to purchase a number of things for which you keep the receipts, warranty, rebate card, return policy and so forth. You make the seller “put it in writing.” Make sure you keep a written record of your interactions with your school over their contract to provide your child a free appropriate public education. Your child is certainly worth it.

This information is educational and not intended to be legal advice.

Reed Martin is an attorney with 33 years experience in special education law and recognized as one of the nation’s leading experts. He can be reached through email at or