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The Negative Impact of Certified Letters

by Wrightslaw

At Wrightslaw, we have always recommended creating a paper trail through documentation in letters. Many parents think you should send important letters to the school by certified mail.  This could have a negative impact on your relationship with school personnel. It may cause the recipient to feel defensive and mistrustful.  So how do you establish that the school received your letter?

If you send a letter to the school by certified mail, you put the recipient on notice that you want “proof of delivery,” probably for legal and evidence purposes.

Hand Deliver Your Letter

A better way to establish that the school received your letter is to hand-deliver your letter to the recipient.

  • Take your original letter and one signed copy.
  • Note the time you enter the office.
  • Observe the office layout.
  • Pay attention to the secretary or office manager.
  • Note the person’s age, dress, hair color and style, and other distinctive characteristics.
  • Ask the person to give your letter to Mr. Chris Rogers, principal.
  • Do not ask for a signed receipt.

If you don’t know the secretary’s name, introduce yourself.  “Hi.  I’m Cate Rice, Evan’s mom. I have a letter for Mr. Rogers.  Would you mind giving it to him?  I don’t think we’ve met before.  Your name is…”

After you leave, note everything you observed on the back of your copy of the letter.  Write what you said and what you were told.

If a week passes and you do not receive a response, write a short follow-up letter.  Attach a copy of your original letter to the follow-up letter.

When you go to the office, you may have a chance to refresh the secretary’s memory.  “Hi…we met last week.  Do you know if Mr. Rogers got the letter I gave you?  I have another copy in case.”  Because you remembered the secretary’s name, she will not forget you. When you leave, write the details of what happened on the back of your follow-up letter.

You Have Proof of Receipt

Your proof includes your testimony and your contemporaneous notes that you wrote when you delivered the letters.  You did not create hostility and mistrust.  You did not polarize the relationship with the school.  You may have even made a new friend.

Remember, when you deal with the school, your goal is to secure a good educational program for your child.  If you take actions that cause school personnel to feel defensive or mistrustful, you are less likely to accomplish your goal.

Letter Writing Tips

Letter Writing Tips on p. 229,  Chapter 23, “How to Write Good Evidence Letters” –  Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy, 2nd Edition

In Chapter 24,  “Writing the ‘Letter to the Stranger’ ” we have a section that begins at page 246 that is titled “Do Not Send Certified Letters” and discusses why this approach is wrong and will backfire on you. Instead, the following section entitled “Strategies: Hand Deliver Letters” on page 247 explains that important letters should be hand delivered and why.

At the end of each chapter are a number of sample letters.

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33 Comments on "The Negative Impact of Certified Letters"


I’ve requested an ‘Explanation of Refusal’ from my son’s school district who is rejecting my son’s therapeutic placement that he has had for the past several years. I’ve made this request at least 3 times and I’ve yet to receive a response. From my understanding, this is something I am allowed to request. I’ve also asked for a written description of the of the program they are proposing. I’ve asked them for information regarding the curriculum, classroom supports, and evidence based practices. Again, no response. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.


I am working with a family who is homeschooling through a charter school and the office is three hours away. How do you suggest making sure a letter is received since it is not practical to drive to the office and hand deliver the letter?


Sooooooooo true! And so often forgotten. Thanks.


I have been told that email is great for documentation. I cc the email letter to myself and to one other person, then print and file it. Special Ed Director hasn’t failed to answer the letters. The school is 23 miles west of where we live and the BOCES that handles special ed services is almost as far in the opposite direction. Email has worked well. But am I to understand that they won’t be looked at seriously in court because they can be altered?

Sharon L.

I have 3 sons and have done IEP meetings for over 25 years with all 3 of them. I always send certified letters. There was no negative effect or response at all. I agree that it is sad that we have to discuss this.

If schools had the funds, time and people to do the job, we would probably not be in this much of a mess. I would follow up my meetings with a certified letter sent to the special ed director and a copy of the same letter sent regular mail to the principal and any other people I thought should receive one.