"If it was not written down, it was not said. If it was not written down, it did not happen." -- Pete Wright
From Emotions to Advocacy includes chapters about paper trails
and documentation. You learn how to use logs, journals and calendars, a Problem Report, how to write good letters, and how to write the "Letter
to the Stranger." In this article, you learn about paper trails and documentation.
Good records are essential to effective advocacy!
When you deal with a bureaucracy like the Internal Revenue Service or your state tax department, you know that you need to keep detailed records. Many parents do not realize that their school districts are bureaucracies too.
a record of your contacts with the school. Your log should include
telephone calls and meetings, conversations, and correspondence between
you and the school.
yourself to write things down!
Make your requests in writing. Write polite follow-up letters to document events, discussions, and meetings.
Documentation that supports your position is a key to resolving disputes early. Your tools are simple:
Support Memories & and Testimony
However, if your recollections are supported by a journal, contact log or calendar that describes the problem or event, you will be in a stronger position. Your journal or log should be contemporaneous -- that is, written when the events or incidents occurred.
If you can produce a letter that describes what the school agreed to do or refused to do, your position will be stronger.
If the school asks you to sign a consent or permission form, get a copy for your records. Your copy establishes what you agreed to.
Documents Answer Questions
Documents provide answers to Who, What, Why, When, Where, How and Explain questions.
Your Contact Log
Use a log to document all contacts between you and the school. Your log should include telephone calls, messages, meetings, letters, and notes between you and the school staff. Figure 1 is a contact log for telephone calls.
log is a memory aid and will help you remember what happened and why.
Figure 2 shows how to log in a phone call you made to the school.
You can use a log to document problems too. Figure 3 shows how to log in a problem.
can use a bound or looseleaf notebook as a log. Be consistent!
parents like to record their appointments in a monthly or "Year
at a Glance" calendar. Calendars can provide good evidence about
meeting dates and times.
Tip! Do not throw your calendar away at the end of the year!
Your journal is like a diary and should be clear and legible.
you request a due process hearing, your journal may be important evidence
in your childs case. Your writings, journals, logs, calendars,
and letters may be subpoenaed by the school district.
When you write into your journal, write to the Stranger who has the power to fix problems. When the Stranger reads your journal, the Stranger will understand your perspective and want to fix your problems.
Do you have frequent or ongoing problems with the school – frequent suspensions, homework problems, teacher problems? You can use the Problem Report worksheet to document ongoing school problems. If you have several Problem Reports about the same issue, this is evidence that your child’s program or placement is not appropriate.
People involved: ______________________________________________
Facts (5 Ws + H + E)
What happened? ______________________________________________
When did it happen? ___________________________________________
Who was involved? ____________________________________________
Where did it happen? __________________________________________
Why did it happen? ____________________________________________
Who witnessed? ______________________________________________
What action did school take? ____________________________________
What action did you take? ______________________________________
Other facts: __________________________________________________
Figure 5. Problem Report Worksheet
Tip! You have a right to a copy of your childs IEP.
Writing to "The Stranger"
In Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy, 2nd Edition, you learn how to write good evidence letters and persuasive Letters to the Stranger.
When you document problems and write letters, assume that your letters will be read by a Stranger who has the power to right the wrongs. After reading a letter from you, the Stranger understands the issues, knows what you want and why, and wants to help.
Who is the Stranger?
The Stranger has the power to make important decisions on your child's behalf. The Stranger may be be the director of special education or the school superintendent. The Stranger may be a hearing officer, Administrative Law Officer, or judge.
If you write a clear, logical, factual letter about your problem to the Stranger, a letter that persuades the Stranger to help, you will prevail without a war.
We call this technique "Writing the Letter to the Stranger." To learn more about letter writing, download and read these articles.
** Required Reading for Clients - Original "Letter to the Stranger," by Janie Bowman and Peter Wright.
When you read the original "Letter to the Stranger" that
was posted on the CompuServe ADD Forum in 1994, you will see how this
concept evolved. A few years later, this article and other information
from the ADD Forum became part of a Smithsonian Exhibit about online
culture and communities.
this article, you learned to create paper trails by documenting contacts
with the school - conversations, meetings and other events.
You will think about the powerful decision-making Stranger when you write descriptions of events, concerns and problems.