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A Parent’s Nasty Email: Cry for Help or Reality Check?

by Pete Wright

I received the strangest email the other day, and I don’t know why.

The email was a very curt response from a parent (I’ll call her Thelma) to a teacher. The teacher made a third request for a permission slip. Thelma responded with three sharp sentences, some words IN ALL CAPS, every sentence ending with !!!!!.

I couldn’t help it. I had to respond to Thelma.

I told Thelma that I didn’t know why she sent a copy of her email to Wrightslaw. It was painfully obvious that she was not familiar with the advocacy model that we teach in our training programs and in the Webex Special Ed Law & Advocacy Training program on CD-ROM. I felt I had to give Thelma advice, even though she probably wouldn’t appreciate it.

Your tone with the teacher was nasty and increased the odds that there will be more problems between you, the parent, and the staff at your child’s school. When this happens, you will have no one to blame but yourself.

Right or wrong, you need to assume that this teacher was sending a helpful reminder that the slip needed to be turned in. You slapped her in the face.

What could happen if you wrote something different, like this? “Many thanks for sending the email reminder about the permission slip. There are times when we need as many reminders as we can get, so we appreciate your extra effort. The slip is in Charlie’s bag and I hope he remembers to turn it in to you. Thanks again for your help.”

My advice is that if you change your style, this may lead to improved relationships. Take it or leave it. Good luck.

I didn’t expect to hear from Thelma again — unless she wrote to unload on me.

Believe it or not, Thelma sent an email to thank me for the advice.

I guess my email was a cry for help. That email became a “Reality check” after I read your answer.

I sometimes feel like I am trapped up against the wall with my son’s school Thank you very much for your comments. I will immediately change my tone and definitely look into your CD ROM Training.

Have a very nice day and many thanks again for your time and response.

I thought I saw the course begin to change. I just had to respond.

I told Thelma that when Pam and I send an email of the type I sent to her, the recipient often reacts by attacking and criticizing us. Sometimes people write to say that they heard the message and are changing course.

Given Thelma’s positive response, I thought she would enjoy the Susan Bruce’s story. You’ll enjoy it too if you didn’t read it when we published it in a newsletter last year. From Victim to a Mighty Force (The Numbers Do Not Lie) is at

In 2006, Susan sent an email in which she “ranted” (her words) about her children’s school system. When she received our auto-response, she replied with “Thanks for another door slammed in the face of my child.”

Pam answered Susan, and suggested that she stop playing the victim and do what was necessary to become an effective advocate for her children. That’s exactly what she did! Although we heard nothing from Susan for more than a year, she sent an email a few months ago, describing how her children are doing and what she is up to.

Susan is now a Regional Education Coordinator for her state Parent Information Center, PRO-Parents of South Carolina, Inc. You can read Susan’s story, From Victim to a Mighty Force: The Numbers Do Not Lie at:

In our training programs, we emphasize the importance of keeping your emotions under control and treating others politely, regardless how nasty someone may be acting. You must always play the role of Ms. Manners (who merged with Peter Columbo) and ask lots of “5 W’s + H + E questions” (who, what, when, where, why, how, explain). When you are focused and polite, school staff begin to view you differently. You are now Ms. Manners with a touch of Mother Theresa.

And, as we explain in the Rule of Adverse Assumptions (see Chapter 21 in Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy, our special education survival guide), you must assume that you will have to request a due process hearing, and that you cannot testify at the hearing. How can you prevail? You must write polite letters about events that occurred, what you requested, and what you were told. Your letters, written at the time events happen, make a powerful paper trail.

I wished Thelma good luck.

Thelma responded again. She said she was committed to getting training to be a good advocate for her young son. I wonder if Thelma will send a Success Story one day.


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30 Comments on "A Parent’s Nasty Email: Cry for Help or Reality Check?"

Sharon L.

KarenB – An apology will help but probably not fix it. I have done this as well. It is very emotional when it is your child and you find that the school tricked you. The best way to keep this from happening is to get a DRAFT IEP ahead of time and a final DRAFT IEP when you believe you are complete before you sign. This way you can see if there is any confusion or misunderstanding. I have had the school actually change the wording from what was discussed at the meeting and the final IEP which we NEVER sign. WE always ask for a final copy without the signature page and one time they changed something. We politely pointed it out and they had no other option but to put it back the way they told us. It is a way to keep them as honest as possible.

Sharon L.

Sue This is a great story. Keep up the good work. By the way it was Theodore Roosevelt not Franklin.


I came across this article today (Saturday), 2 days AFTER I blew up at my child’s teacher on the telephone. I had just discovered that my son (who is 6 years old, with Down Syndrome, and who has regressed from speaking in sentences in both Chinese and English to a vocabulary of 10 words) is not getting the speech therapy that my husband and I thought we agreed to at the IEP meeting (it was on the IEP, but under “related services” which the teacher explained meant the therapist working with the entire class). Following my explosion with the teacher, I then called the staffing specialist, and I think I was a little more civilized with her. But I guess now, I should probably write a note of apology to the teacher, while still advocating for our child’s needs. Is there hope of redeeming this situation?


Our school system needs a big nudge along with the congeniality. Was it FDR that said “Walk softly but carry a big stick?” There was never a question the teachers were on our son’s side, but they could not speak out. They were told prior to the IEP meeting how it was going to go. So we had to arm ourselves with knowledge of the law – the big stick – and be extremely firm in the meetings. We also hired a great advocate here in MD named Mary Jo Siebert. This year the p.s. rep. wanted to move testing from spring to this fall in what we were sure was an effort to remove our son from his non-public spec.ed. placement. I tried on my own to negotiate with them but it wasn’t til I told them Mary Jo would have to come to all IEP’s that the p.s. rep.has stopped badgering us with her urgent phone calls that we meet ASAP to agree to testing.


Madeline, You are probably one of the good teachers that none of us have any concerns with. I have been fortunate to say that my LD children have had many of those (thank goodness). These are the kind of teachers that if they were all like that you would not even have to have an IEP they just know how to deal with all children and use different teaching methods. My son is now in college (dyslexic) and struggling however he was lucky enough to have a great business teacher that taught in multiple ways, auditorily, kinesthecially and visually and my son thrived as did all of the other students. If all teacher could just incorporate these methods for ALL students they would be more successful.