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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Prior Written Notice: Your Right to Hear About Changes

From Understood

By Andrew M.I. Lee
January 15, 2106

At a Glance
  • Prior written notice is a legal right guaranteed to every parent.
  • Prior written notice requires the school to send written explanations of any proposed changes in your child’s educational plan.
  • Prior written notice also requires the school to send a written notice if the school denies a parent request.


Schools make changes to student services all the time. As the parent, you need to be informed. You need to know what the changes are and why the school is making them. You also get to participate in the decision-making. The law is on your side.

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), parents have legal rights called procedural safeguards. One of these safeguards is called “prior written notice.”

This provision says the school must give parents written notice any time it adds, changes or denies educational services to their child, or wants to change the child’s placement.

Here’s what else you need to know about prior written notice.

What the Written Notice Should Contain

Prior written notice must include a full description of what the school plans to do or refuses to do. It must also give parents the following:
  • An explanation of why the school wants to make this change, or is refusing to make the change you requested;
  • A description of other options that were considered and why those options were rejected;
  • A description of each test or record the school used in making the decision;
  • A reminder that parents have legal rights to procedural safeguards;
  • Information about how parents can get a written copy of their legal rights;
  • Contact information for help in understanding their rights.

When the School Sends Written Notice

Any time the school proposes to start or change nearly anything related to your child’s education, it must send prior written notice. For example, if the school wants to change your child’s IEP, it needs to send you prior written notice. The school also must give written notice if it rejects any parent requests.

Here are a few more examples of when you should get notice:
  • When the school wants to conduct an initial evaluation of your child;
  • When the school says no to your request for an evaluation, services or placement in another educational setting;
  • When the school wants to change how it identifies your child’s disability;
  • When the school wants to change a child’s educational placement, such as switching from a general education classroom to a special education classroom;
  • When the school wants to reduce, add or in any way change your child’s educational services.

If the school informed you of the change in a phone call or a meeting, it still has to send you written notice.

What if the school does not give prior written notice?

You can ask for written notice if the school doesn’t send it. If the school fails to send you prior written notice, it’s violating the law.

Prior written notice gives you an opportunity to respond before any changes are made. If you don’t agree with the action the school plans to take or the school refuses to send you prior written notice, you can put your objections in writing.

If you ask for mediation or a due process hearing in your letter, you’ll trigger the “stay put”provision. That means no changes can be made until you and the school resolve your differences. You may be able to work out your disagreement in a meeting.

Sometimes there are misunderstandings about changes in your child’s education. Prior written notice guarantees that you’re kept up to date on the important decisions being made. Understanding this right is important to being a strong advocate for your child.

Key Takeaways
  • The school must send prior written notice even if a teacher notified you verbally about a change.
  • If the school fails to send you prior written notice, it’s violating the law.
  • Prior written notice gives parents time to respond before changes are made.

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Andrew M.I. Lee, J.D., is an editor and former attorney who strives to help people understand complex legal, education and parenting issues. More by this author

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