“Do you have any advice about the ’10 day notice letter’ to the school that parents are required to send if they plan to place their child in a private school at public expense? What should be included?”
The 10-day notice letter can easily be one of your most important evidentiary exhibits, helping or hurting your case. The 10-day notice letter, written by the parents, lays out the theme of the case.
The letter should be written with the following thoughts in mind. If the letter is lost, then found and read by a stranger, the stranger (who knows nothing about special ed law or disability issues) will understand the nature of the case, the child’s disability, what has been done, what needs to be done – and wants to right the wrong. If the stranger had the power, he or she would want the school to pay tuition for the private placement.
I tell parents that they must use letters to prepare their case, as though they will not be able to testify at their due process hearing. The “Letter to the Stranger” is an important step in preparing a case for trial.
I use the parents’ 10-day letter and the due process request letter as my outline for direct exam of the parent and for cross-examination of school district employees at the due process hearing.
It is hard for the school board attorney to cross-examine a letter.
If I use the parents’ letter often enough on direct and cross during the trial, the Hearing Officer will usually go back and re-read it. In many cases, the factual history of a successful ruling tracks the content of the parents’ letter.
The original “Letter to the Stranger” concept involved letters written by a parent who was in crisis. After writing two letters to the school (one in anger, one to explain their position), the parent lost the letters. Later, the letters were picked up by a stranger who read them and . . . read original Letter to the Stranger.
On the Wrightslaw site, we have a Letter Writing page with links to articles about letter-writing and two due process request letters (Letters to a Stranger) written by my clients. (NC James Brody; OH Joe James). Both cases had successful outcomes.
Our book, Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy, 2d Edition includes 16 sample letters (pages 235-240 and pages 249-260). These letters tell a story from the parent’s first request for information at the beginning of the school year to the parent’s 10-day notice letter to the school district (pages 257-260).
Writing & Revising
In my cases, the parents write the early drafts of the letter. I ask them to tell their child’s story, in chronological sequence. Before they begin, I have them read similar letters, such as the letters in Brody and James (above).
After they finish the first draft of their letter, the letter must be edited and revised extensively so it is clear and compelling – so the reader know what the parents want and why.
Editing Tip: When you think the letter is finished, there is one more step you should take. Copy the file, rename it, open it, select all (Control-A), then reformat it in Courier font, 14 point, double-spaced. Print the letter again and revise it.
The results of this simple trick may surprise you – it will force you to shift perspective, as if you are editing a letter you have not read before. You will see redundancies and confusing sentences.