The Negative Impact of Certified Letters

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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.

  1. Yes! It’s true. Follow tight protocol, bc one day, you may absolutely need it! I also agree with timing. Pace yourself. We’re on our 5th year here, sadly. Certified Letters mandatory.

  2. 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.

  3. 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?

  4. 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?

  5. 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.

  6. Re: not using e-mail. Can’t the letter of origin be traced to the author, ultimately? I don’t see a one-size-fits-all approach in communications. There were times that e-mail suited us well, and times when we hand-delivered then followed up with a copy in the mail. In the long run, I found that the more corrupt the district, the less accountability for delivering FAPE regardless of method of communication. It’s sickening that we even have this issue at all.

  7. The front desk secretary at my child’s former school wouldn’t even sign the letter my husband hand-delivered. That person actually said that she didn’t understand what he asked her to do. All she had to do was sign her name! She never did sign. That district is notorious for delivering poor special ed services and, (allegedly) violating state mandates. The admin engaged in “he said, she said” games and the only evidence or proof of contact was a signature. IEP docs never reflected communication between parties. They wanted zero accountability and the state allowed just that. We eventually learned to use email and our scanner and faxed copies.

  8. Good Evening !

    There comes a point where Certified Letters are necessary. The school system has strong armed Lawyers who after sitting in I.E.P. meetings use tactics to shut down parents. Never use e mail because they will send e mails , block responses and e mails can be retrieved and scrambled . They want e mails.

    Use Letters only through the mail for they do not like this and this is the only communication. to be used for Technology is
    against parents . But then again what do we know. Parents are being side swiped in Technology and arrogance
    by the schools with parents not up on the laws with the taking advantage of the poor / impoverished parents

    Strong Advocates not welcome and will be shut down. Bring a letter to the school and face Resource Officers.

    Respectfully ,Michael & Madeleine

  9. Sue – This is only one reason why I sent certified letters instead of hand deliver them. MY school district did not take offense to the letters. It did not bother them at all.

  10. I have always faxed all documents to the school with verify transmission. I make a notebook every year and use it as a file to organize all documents and correspondence with school. Recently I made two copies of documents and a cover page that listed all of the documents being delivered to the school. On the cover page I made a line for the authorized personal to sign they received the documents.(school has previously lost IEP documents and testing I provided). Special ED. teacher refused to sign. I sent certified mail. I asked the Speech Pathologist providing services through the Health Care Authority e-mail school district copy of testing to document services were needed and being provided outside of the district. If all parents were advised to keep extremely amazing professional records. Schools would expect it as a no brainer.

  11. I surely agree that one does not want to make a negative impact with school personnel. If a letter to the school is necessary, I concur it should be hand-delivered. However, there is nothing wrong with having it time and date stamped and initialed by the recipient. It is the approach and attitude of the person requesting this verification, not the request itself that may cause hostility. If the request is made in a friendly manner and the stamped-receipt verification treated as the routine verification I believe it is, there should be no problems at all. Schools are used to stamp-receiving any number of different items. I have been sucessfully either emailing or hand-delivering letters and obtaining receipts for years. I would never advise anyone to do what you suggest. The majority of your articles are A+. Not this one. Becky

  12. I work in a school, and really do care about your kids. I agree that receiving certified mail from a parent sets an adversarial climate. This serves nobody well if it can be avoided. We have had good results with establishing “Team meetings” with parents on a regular basis (e.g., monthly 30-minute meetings) as part of the IEP when parents and/or school staff feel this is necessary to ensure communication flow and document decisions . Minutes of issues discussed and actions agreed upon are distributed to parents and the school team and made part of the official file. It is usually a positive, cooperative, proactive way to address issues that do not require a formal IEP meeting and results in positive outcomes for the student.

  13. When I feel it is necessary, that I want the school the take me very seriously… I fedex with signature required. We are talking legal requirements and the rights of my child. Normally what happens is the director of special education (who always gets fedex’ed a copy) gets involved to resolve the situation as best as possible. She knows I am not going to go away, and she tries to do what she can for my child.
    Of course, it depends on the character of the director. This woman does care about children. Not all do.

  14. I guess this advice is for people in very small school districts. But suggesting that a letter needs to be hand delivered is a big deal in a large district when the headquarters are not near your home. In our district “no response” is the way things are handled. Without delivery confirmation you could never be sure where your letter ended up.
    I too wonder why parents must be posturing themselves around the school system? The child is so lost in all of this. Who is looking out for the child? All this talk about not wanting to upset the adults who have a legal obligation to educate children is way out of whack.

  15. I totally disagree with this. Certified letters are the only sure way that the parent and school know it was received. I don’t see anything negative about it. I don’t get upset when the school sent me a certified letter. I know that I was supposed to get it and got it. Why do we have to be so afraid of what they think? We will never beat them at their own game so I don’t really think this upsets anyone.

    • I started reading this blog to find out why certified mail is frowned upon. It appears that the reason is that certified mail can be refused and the certification flags its importance. Generally speaking, some legal proceedings require that a copy also be sent via regular U.S. Mail. Maybe delay the certified letter a day or two and indicate your doing so at the bottom of the letter. Similar to certified mail, one can get a “proof of mailing” from the post office.

  16. Barbara – I agree with you. Why are we so concerned about certified letters? I have done it for years with all three of my sons. I usually send one certified letter to the special ed director and the rest of the letters go regular mail. It has only helped our cause and the school people got so used to it it did not pose a threat but did get much of the job done we needed. Believe me the school is aware of certified letters and they don’t care. They are just as difficult to deal with. It helps the parent and child and that is what counts.

  17. I am so glad I read this discussion. My daughter was diagnosed with autism and we were about to send a certified letter to our school district. I liked what James said, about sending the Priority Mail with delivery tracking. With our school district, it does not matter how you ask for an evaluation, hand delivery, certified, e-mail, they are automatically suspicious! They don’t want to give special education services to anyone! Maybe the Priority Mail will throw them off their game a bit and give us an advantage!

  18. Although it seems like the most diplomatic approach, it is not always feasible. It is especially so if there are unresolved issues. I think it’s important the school knows you have a paper trail so that they take your concens seriously.
    It seems very unbalanced when we have to walk on eggshells around the district; fear of making the wrong approach will adversely effect our children in school. Are there not laws in place to protect the rights of children in schools? If a district retaliates in a way that negatively impacts our child’s education, we can notify the dept of education in NYS.
    Parent advocates should not fear retribution for ensuring that have documentation and proof that correspondence was sent and received by the district.

  19. I don’t think that ALL letters need to be certified but certain ones like asking for evaluations should be. I know of a situation where the school refused to sign for the letter,several times and it was all documented by the certified receipt each time the post office was unable to gain a signature.

  20. My 3 year old just started pre k. He does not have a diagnosis other than mildly developmentally delayed, mostly due to speech delay. I am surprised to find out there is no inclusion program, he previously went to a regular preschool and was progressing well with his speech and played appropriately with the other children who were not special needs. I spoke with the county child find to ask if he could be placed in a different classroom or if I could send him to private school and only receive speech therapy and the said no. I just feel that he would learn better social and communication skills elsewhere. Do I have any options? thanks, meg

  21. This goes both ways. I received a certified letter from the school to me. Apparently, someone at the school had forgotten to provide me with important paperwork during a meeting and upon realization decided to send me a certified letter. I called my child’s IEP case manager and let her know that I felt like they were trying to establish a paper trail on me. Once we both figured out the situation, we discussed it again and she informed the school psychologist how she had inadvertently gotten my back up.
    I am surprised that families are advised not to use emails, as more and more school districts are relying solely on computerized IEPs which families do not have access to, which can as you say, be easily changed after the fact and often do not track which school district staff has accessed them, when and to do what.

  22. You can also send a letter by Priority Mail WITH DELIVERY TRACKING. This provides you with online proof that the item arrived, but no signature is required. It just shows up in their mail bundle and you can access the online tracking report showing it was received.

    However, online tracking information vanishes from the postal service web site after six months, so you must print it out and attach it to your copy of the letter in case you need proof later.

  23. Our school is so large that “snail mail” is really hard to track. We have had much more luck sending a letter attached to an e-mail, contents “locked” via the PDF format. That way we can send a signature, send multiple copies to multiple people at the same time…..and follow up with a mailed letter.

  24. Susan: The problem with emails is that they can be changed. Also, most judges are conservative and older than the average bear, so they prefer (trust) old fashioned letters.

    Related concept: if parents are keeping a journal, it should be handwritten for maximum effectiveness. A journal created with a computer can also be changed later.

  25. While I don’t typically suggest emails, I have seen those stand up in due process hearings…………………….IF the school has responded TO the email with another email. IMO, nothing is better than a good old fashioned, well written letter. I do caution parents about sending certified letters, it does tend to “get the school’s back up.” I have found that lots of documented details like Pam mentions is very effective.

  26. In most cases, certified letters send up a red flag so they are forwarded to the school board attorney. When we want to ensure that the school gets a letter, but don’t want to send up a red flag to the school bd atty, we have the parent hand-deliver the letter.

    Assume the letter is to Dr. Jones, special ed director. Parent takes 2 copies of the letter to Dr. Jones – one for Dr. J, one for self. If Dr. J. is not available, parent asks secretary to give the letter to him. On back of parent’s copy, parent notes date, time, who she gave ltr to, what that person said, what person was wearing, any other details (i.e., Dr. J’s secretary had a vase of daisies on her desk)

    Later, parent requests a DP hearing. Schools says they did not receive parents’ letter. School bd attorney assumes parent did not provide a letter. If the letter was a “notice to remove child from public program, will request tuition reimbursement” letter, not providing it would likely destroy parents’ case.

    During the hearing, parent is asked about the letter. Parent testifies that she hand-delivered the letter, when, who she gave it to, what that person said, what the person was wearing, etc. This testimony is very credible. When school bd atty prepared her case, an essential element was the failure of parents to provide notice.

    If the letter is about a different issue, and the school did not respond, the school may have lost or misfiled the letter. A lost letter doesn’t make a good impression either.

  27. Negative Impact of Certified Letters. I would like to know when a due process lawsuit comes into play what type of letter can be used as evidence. Certified letters or letters that are faxed or letters that are hand delivered? I was always told that certified letters will be the only evidence permitted in court.

  28. FAXing a letter is less threatening than certified mail as well, and most often the fax machine will give you a “transmission receipt”.

  29. I have sent certified letters many, many times and since the school knows that I do this because I want to be sure they get it there has been no distrust or negative attitude. I have had success with this and my understanding is that it is the only way that a letter is truly documented as being received and is the best form of evidence if needed. I send the main person (principal or special ed director) the certified letter and send copies of the letter to the other team members regular mail.

  30. I’ve also had luck cc other important people such as the TEAM leader, classroom teacher, sped director – whoever would be appropriate based on the objective and content of the letter. The school would be hard pressed to contend that all the parties did not receive the letter.

    It also helps to shoot off a quick, one or two sentence e-mail that alerts them that you dropped off a letter. The e-mail serves as more evidence that a letter was deliverd and is an unobtrusive reminder to the recepiant to check his or her mail.

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