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Follow-Up Letters That "Testify" at Due Process - When You Cannot
by Paula Flower

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You cannot testify at due process. How can you tell the administrative law judge or hearing officer what happened in your IEP meeting? Your follow-up letters can “testify” for you

Don’t let your recordings of IEP meetings sit in a file collecting dust. Put them to good use! Write a follow-up letter that re-states what the team discussed and agreed to provide. Your follow-up letter must be accurate. Your recording of the IEP meeting will come in handy.

Pete Wright says, prepare AS IF you are going to go to due process – that will help keep you OUT of due process. If you do end up in due process, your letters increase your chances of prevailing. (Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy, 2nd Edition, Chapter 21.)

Pete also talks about the Rules of Adverse Assumptions. The rules mean "assume the worst." Assume you will have to go to due process to resolve your dispute and you won’t be able to testify. 

Review the Recording of the IEP Meeting

Taking notes while listening to a recording is easier than taking notes when you are actively participating in the IEP meeting.

Listen to the recording of the meeting. You'll be surprised at what you missed during the meeting. Begin to take notes. Bullet-points are fine. Pretend you are in an important lecture and you want to get the significant points the speaker is making.

Tip: If you use a digital recorder, indicate the time in your notes when you stop to take breaks. If you do not finish your notes in one day, you can to go to the exact spot in the recording where you stopped.

Write a Follow-Up Letter

Refer back to your notes to use them as the basis for your follow-up letter.

Basic Rules of Letter-writing from 12 Rules for Writing Great Letters

  • Always be polite and cordial
  • Omit any emotional outbursts
  • Always be factual and accurate

Three Levels of a Follow-Up Letter

1. Follow-up Letter Expressing Appreciation and Asking for Clarification

If you and your school district agree about most issues at your IEP, but you need to clarify a few details, use letter #1 as a template.

Example: During the meeting there was a lengthy discussion about your child's need for a 1:1 instructional assistant. The team agreed to provide an assistant. The assistant would have previous experience working with children on the autism spectrum. The school district would provide the assistant with additional training.

When you reread the IEP carefully when you get home, you see that it vaguely states, “The school will provide Mary with an aide.”

Write a follow-up letter to clarify the agreement on this issue. Document the details in your letter. 

Janet Jones
721 River Street
Nashua, NH 03060
777-555-1212

May 18, 2010

Nathan Weiss, Director of Special Education
SAU #1
1001 Main Street
Nashua, NH 03060

Reference: Mary R. Jones
DOB: 04/01/98
School: Grove Middle School

Dear Mr. Weiss:

Thank you very much for meeting with me today to design an IEP for my daughter Mary.

We discussed Mary’s evaluations, her present levels of academic achievement and functional performance, proposed measurable annual goals, and the services she needs to help her meet these goals.

The IEP team had a lengthy discussion about the 1:1 instructional assistant that the team agreed to provide. During the meeting, the team agreed that the aide would have previous experience working with children on the autism spectrum.

The IEP team agreed that the district will provide an additional 10 hours training for this person with a contracted behavioral specialist.

The IEP team agreed that the aide would work 1:1 with Mary for the full duration of the school day.  

If I have misunderstood what was decided at the meeting or if you have questions, please call me at 777-555-1212.

Sincerely,


Janet Jones

Copy: Mary's cumulative education file


2. Follow-up Letter Documenting Disagreement with the IEP

Use this type of letter when you and the school district disagree on many issues

This letter is also cordial. Document all your concerns and all areas where you disagreed with the school members of the IEP team.

Federal law does not require parents to explain exactly why they disagree with a school district’s evaluations. Be as specific as you want to be.

Janet Jones
721 River Street
Nashua, NH 03060
777-555-1212

April 18, 2010

Nathan Weiss, Director of Special Education
SAU #1
1001 Main Street
Nashua, NH 03060

Reference: Mary R. Jones
DOB: 04/01/98
School: Grove Middle School

Dear Mr. Weiss:

Thank you for meeting with me today to develop an IEP for my daughter, Mary.

During the meeting, we began by discussing the district’s evaluations of Mary. As you know, I disagreed with several assessments and conclusions. Some of the district’s assessments, including the psychological evaluation, speech/language testing, and occupational therapy testing, do not accurately describe Mary.

The district's assessments suggest that Mary is functioning and performing at a significantly higher level than she truly is.

The district proposed four goals. These four goals do not address all of Mary’s areas of need.  I proposed additional goals in reading, writing, spelling, and speech. The district refused to consider adopting any of these goals, saying that there would be too many.

The district proposed Mary would go to the Resource Room for 30 minutes a day to work on 3 goals with the Resource Specialist. The district proposed 15 minutes a week of speech therapy to work on her speech goal.

I advised the IEP team that when I read with my daughter at home, she struggles to read material that is 2 years below her grade level. She is unable to spell age or grade-appropriate words. Her writing is illegible. I do not believe that 30 minutes a day with several other students in the resource room is sufficient to address these serious deficiencies in Mary’s reading, spelling, and writing skills.

As you know, Mary also has significant communication difficulties and oral-motor problems. I do not think 15 minutes of speech therapy a week is adequate to address Mary’s needs.

I asked the IEP team to provide 90 minutes of specialized reading instruction per day,using a scientifically research based intervention proven to be effective for children with dyslexia. A program is effective if taught directly and explicitly and is sequenced, systematic, and multi-sensory.

Mrs. Smith, the resource specialist, told me that the school doesn’t have a reading program like that.

We need to schedule another IEP meeting to address these issues. I am available April 20 - 27. You can contact me at 777-555-1212. I look forward to meeting with the team to resolve these concerns and to develop an appropriate program for Mary.

Sincerely,


Janet Jones

Copy: Mary's cumulative education file


Use the notes you made from the recording to ensure that you did not leave out any important issues or facts. When there are many points of disagreement, it is very difficult to rely solely on your memory when you write the follow-up letter. 

Remember the rules: Your follow-up letter should be polite and factual. Note what participants actually said. Keep emotional outbursts like the example below out of your letters.

“I couldn’t believe it when Mrs. Smith said that the school had no research-based, scientifically proven reading intervention for individuals with dyslexia! What is wrong with this school? You are a Title I school. You get extra money from Reading First. What are you doing with it? I’ve noticed that the school redecorated the main office with ergonomic chairs and desks for the staff. Is that where the Reading First money is going?” 

3. Partial Transcription Letter

Use the partial transcription letter when:

  • you and your school district have significant disagreements
  • you have had two or more unproductive IEP meetings
  • the chances are high that you will file for Due Process
  • the school district blatantly flouts the law, does not seem to care, or gives inaccurate statements about their responsibilities for educating your child

School districts often make broad, blanket statements about their procedures and policies.

“We don’t do that here.”
“We don’t have that here.”
“Our policy is that we __________.”
“We do not have to consider Independent Educational Evaluations if we disagree with any of the recommendations.”
“We have a ‘no observation’ policy.”

Transcribe these statements word-for-word in the partial transcription letter. 

Janet Jones
721 River Street
Nashua, NH 03060
777-555-1212

April 18, 2010

Nathan Weiss, Director of Special Education
SAU #1
1001 Main Street
Nashua, NH 03060

Reference: Mary R. Jones
DOB: 04/01/98
School: Grove Middle School

Dear Mr. Weiss:

Thank you for meeting with me to develop an IEP for my daughter Mary.  Present at the 3/15/07 IEP meeting were: yourself, Ms. Gray, Mrs. White, Mr. Green, Dr. Black, and myself.  Ms. Gray, the general education teacher, only attended for the first five minutes of the meeting, signed the IEP, and left. I based my notes on the recording of the IEP meeting. 

You began the meeting by asking Mr. Green, Adaptive PE teacher, for his report on Mary. Mr. Green explained that at the beginning of the year, Mary was "somewhat challenging" to work with. She had some behavioral problems and wanted to debate the instructions he was giving to the class.

Mrs. White, speech/language pathologist, interrupted Mr. Green at this point. At approximately 12 minutes into the meeting, she said, “We all know how belligerent Mary can be. You just have to tell her to shut up and move on.” 

Mr. Green replied that he tried to go about it in a nicer way than that.   Mrs. White said, “You don’t have to be nice about it. Just tell her to shut up and that’ll be the end of it.” 

......Further transcription or any additional information.......

I believe this transcription is fully accurate, I used my tape recording to review what was said at the meeting.  If you do not agree, please contact me at 777-555-1212 to determine a time to listen to the recording together and make any corrections necessary.

Sincerely,

Janet Jones

Copy: Mary's cumulative education file


Transcribe any particularly outrageous statements like those above. Transcribe any “blanket statements” and attribute them the person who said them. If you use a digital recorder that indicates the length of meeting time, you may want to indicate how many minutes into the meeting a team member made the statement. This will help if you need to listen to what that person said later.  

Partial transcription letters can be fairly long - 10 to 12 pages for a 2 hour IEP meeting. This is usually shorter than transcribing the entire IEP meeting, which can reach 20-30 pages for a 2 hour IEP.

Make sure your transcription is accurate. You should allow at least 2 hours for every hour of recording. (Be careful of having someone else transcribe - how will you know it is accurate?) If you hire a court reporter to transcribe a recording, it will be notarized as accurate - but it will be expensive.

Send your partial transcription letter to the school district. State that you believe the transcription is fully accurate.  Request that they advise you if they disagree.  Explain that you can listen to the recording together and make any corrections necessary. This removes the argument that the transcript is not accurate.

Request that the school put a copy of your letter in your child’s educational record. This ensures that your child’s cumulative educational file will include a copy of your letter.

If you think it is likely that you may file for due process, think of this letter as “testifying for you.”

Adversely assume that your school district will try to disallow admitting your recording of the IEP meeting as evidence. Even if they are successful, your partial transcription letter will have hit the highlights (or lowlights) of the IEP meeting. 

Writing Follow-up Letters is Well Worth the Time

A good follow-up letter can be very time-consuming to write. The general rule of thumb is to triple the time spent in the actual IEP meeting. A letter documenting a 2-hour IEP meeting is likely to take about 6 hours to write. The IEP meeting follow-up letter is vitally important and is never a waste of time.

What State Laws Say About Recording IEP Meetings

Learn your state’s laws on recording conversations.

Many parents say their school district refused to allow them to record the IEP meeting. Check to see if your state is an “all parties consent” state or not. Check your state’s statute and regulations to see if they allow the recording of IEP meetings.

California is an “all parties consent” state, but California law also expressly allows the audio recording of IEPs with 24-hour notice.

Washington is an “all parties consent” state. All parties generally must consent to the interception or recording of any private communication, whether conducted by telephone, telegraph, radio, or face-to-face, to comply with state law. However, Washington Rev. Code § 9.73.030 states:

“Where consent by all parties is needed pursuant to this chapter, consent shall be considered obtained whenever one party has announced to all other parties engaged in the communication or conversation, in any reasonably effective manner, that such communication or conversation is about to be recorded or transmitted: PROVIDED, that if the conversation is to be recorded that said announcement shall also be recorded.”

The federal regulations are silent on this issue. The regulations do not expressly allow or forbid recording IEP meetings. It is up to each state or even individual school district if this is not addressed in state statute.

If your school district tells you that you cannot record an IEP meeting, ask to see a copy of your school board’s policy. The school should have a policy properly enacted by a duly authorized governing board. It must contain exceptions for special circumstances, (i.e., someone who is physically incapable of taking notes). 

The bottom line.  Put your IEP meeting recordings to good use. Use the recordings to help you write an effective IEP meeting follow-up letter. 

Revised:
Created: 05/25/10

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