Prior Written Notice: Best Kept IEP Secret

As a parent, if you disagree with a decision the school admin makes in an IEP meeting, it can be highly frustrating. I didn’t realize that I could request a Prior Written Notice of the decision, which may change their position if they must submit the reasoning behind an IEP decision.

Prior Written Notice is a parent’s right to request a disputed IEP decision. PWN is submitted with the IEP and describes the decision made, the options considered, and why the team made the decision it did. It may be helpful in the future to show a parent’s request has been denied and the reasons given.

It took me years to realize this existed, and I’ve used it a few times in IEP meetings since then. It can be annoying for the admin, but I like creating as much of a paper trail as possible for the IEP because you never know what could happen.

What Is Prior Written Notice?

Here is the text of Prior Written Notice from IDEA 300.503Opens in a new tab.:

(a) Notice. Written notice that meets the requirements of paragraph (b) of this section must be given to the parents of a child with a disability a reasonable time before the public agency—
(1) Proposes to initiate or change the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of the child or the provision of FAPE to the child; or
(2) Refuses to initiate or change the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of the child or the provision of FAPE to the child.

This means that you can request a “Prior Written Notice” when the rest of the IEP team refuses something in the IEP that you would like to see. This doesn’t mean that it will be delayed, however. And they don’t need to give a certain amount of time of notice; the name of it is a little misleading.

Subsection (b) gives all the information that needs to be included in the PWN.

(b) Content of notice. The notice required under paragraph (a) of this section must include—
(1) A description of the action proposed or refused by the agency;
(2) An explanation of why the agency proposes or refuses to take the action;
(3) A description of each evaluation procedure, assessment, record, or report the agency used as a basis for the proposed or refused action;
(4) A statement that the parents of a child with a disability have protection under the procedural safeguards of this part and, if this notice is not an initial referral for evaluation, the means by which a copy of a description of the procedural safeguards can be obtained;
(5) Sources for parents to contact to obtain assistance in understanding the provisions of this part;
(6) A description of other options that the IEP Team considered and the reasons why those options were rejected; and
(7) A description of other factors that are relevant to the agency’s proposal or refusal.

This has a lot of information, so let’s walk through them.

#1-3 What they are refusing to do, why they are refusing it, and what other options they considered.

#4-5 They need to give you information about your rights (but they will likely provide the minimum required, so look into the rights and assistance possible yourself as well).

#6-7 What the IEP team discussed and options they considered, why it was rejected, and other information related to the decision.

An example of this is a student that cannot physically write, so they need access to a computer with a keyboard. The IEP Team decides not to tick the box for Assistive Tech, so the parent requests a Prior Written Notice.

The team writes that they agree the student needs assistive technology, but the school provides all the equipment needed to all students, so the box doesn’t need to be checked.

This provides written proof of the request that the team agrees that the student needs AT and that it should be provided. If the student is transferred to a different school, the parent can point to this PWN as proof that the student requires Assistive Technology if the new school doesn’t provide laptops to all students.

I am not a lawyer and I do not intend this article to provide legal advice. Please contact an education or disability lawyer if you need further interpretation. I have included references to read the law for yourself as well as the interpretations that I found helpful in writing this article.


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What Is The Benefit Of Prior Written Notice?

Prior Written Notice allows the parent to request written proof of the decision made and options discussed to be included with the IEP. This has a few benefits.

  1. The request is recorded. The PWN provides proof that this request existed and was denied. This may be used later if the school says something was never requested and can help provide more transparent communication. This may be especially helpful if there are staff changes or changes to the school.
  2. The reason for refusing the request is recorded. If, like the example above, the school provides what is requested to all students, it wouldn’t otherwise be included in the IEP. However, if the team agrees it is necessary, the PWN leaves breadcrumbs for future IEP team members.
  3. If the student might switch schools, it can help provide a smooth transition and add transparency to the process. Different schools have different processes, and writing out the “why” can help the next school. See this article for further discussion on this idea.
  4. Admin may change their minds if they have to do a PWN. If the refusal is not done in good faith, or additional options were not considered, they may not want to provide proof of that fact. In this case, they may decide to rescind their refusal and not do a PWN.
  5. If you are considering filing a complaint or pursuing legal action against the school, a PWN can be helpful and provide the admin’s point of view for why this happened. The more written documentation, the better in this circumstance.

IEP admin, staff, and teachers attend many IEPs every year. It is easy for them to forget what was discussed or have a different memory than the parents have of the same conversation.

Prior Written Notice helps everyone involved by providing clarity.

When Should Prior Written Notice Be Used?

Prior Written Notice should be requested whenever you, as the parent, think that the wrong decision was made in the IEP meeting.

Ask yourself a few questions:

  1. Do you want to reference them later?
  2. Do you want to share the refusal and the reasons for the refusal with someone helping you outside the meeting?
  3. Is there a chance you may need proof to pursue legal action?
  4. Do you think you may need someone who did not attend the meeting to understand the decision? (i.e., a different school)
  5. Do you think that the decision they made was not in the best interest of the student?

If you answer “yes” to any of these questions, request a Prior Written Notice. It can be hard to request something that you know will take time away from other things, but if you think it is in the student’s best interest, make the request.

When Should You NOT Use Prior Written Notice?

Many times have been discussed above where you should use Prior Written Notice, but they should be used sparingly.

Here are a few reasons why you shouldn’t use PWN:

  1. You agree with the decision.
  2. You disagree but see how it would be in the student’s best interest.
  3. It is unlikely to be essential to know about later on.
  4. It isn’t one of the top priorities to be implemented in the IEP.

IEP meetings are all about give and take. Everyone comes to the table with different information; most people have their own experiences with the student in different circumstances and have different insights into the student.

Don’t request so many Prior Written Notices that it creates a rift with the admin. Save them for the important things that you want to see implemented.

It may be helpful before the IEP meeting to come up with a list of your top 5 priorities.

Or to write a list of “non-negotiable” items. The things that the student requires to succeed. These are items that you could not in good conscience put your student in the environment without these in place.

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