The Vital Importance of Written Documentation - Adopted from Dorene J. Philpot's 2002 article

Todd Bruce Kotler

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Education Law Attorney

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Written documentation is absolutely essential. If it's not written down, someone, somewhere, somehow, will swear it never happened or it was never said or that it was misinterpreted. If you have a dispute with the school (really anyone), your contact log is independent evidence that supports your memory.

Make requests in writing. Write polite follow-up letters to document, phone calls, events, discussions, and meetings. Note that in nearly all courts, e-mails are treated the nearly the same as any other written communication (one may raise authenticity issues but typically then has to pay for an expert to purse this line of argument).

Documentation that supports one's position is a key to resolving disputes early.

When a dispute with the school aries, assume that someone will testify about one's recollections. Memories are unreliable and influenced by emotions. If a parent's problems boils down to their word against the word of a school employee, they are not likely to prevail without proper documentation.

However, if one's recollections are supported by a journal, contact log or calendar that describes the problem or event, it creates a stronger position. One's journal or log should be contemporaneous -- that is, written when the events or incidents occurred.

If you can produce a letter that describes what the school either agreed to do or refused to do, your position will be stronger.

If the school asks you to sign a consent or permission form, get a copy for your records. Your copy establishes to what you agreed.

Documents Answer Questions

Documents provide answers to "Who, What, Why, When, Where, and How" Just as importantly, they explain questions.

  • What services or supports did the school agree to provide?
  • What services or supports did the school refuse to provide?
  • What reasons did the school give for their refusal?
  • Who attended the meeting when these decisions were made?
  • Why was the parent not advised about this meeting?
  • When was this meeting held?
  • When did the parent receive the IEP in the mail?
  • When did the school inform the parent about this change in program and placement?
  • Explain how the new IEP was implemented.

A Sample Contact Log (Note that these headings might makegood column titles in a spreadsheet)

Use a log to document all contacts between you and the school. Your log should include telephone calls, messages, meetings, letters, and notes between you and the school staff. Figure 1 is a contact log for telephone calls.

Figure 1: Contact Log

Telephone Calls

Who

When

What you wanted

What you were told

Notes

Your log is a memory aid and will help you remember what happened and why.

Your Calendar

Many parents like to record their appointments in a monthly or "Year at a Glance" calendar. Calendars can provide good evidence about meeting dates and times.

If you document meeting dates and times in a calendar, write a description of what happened at the meeting in your journal or log.

Do not throw your calendar away at the end of the year!

Your Journal

A journal is like a diary and should be clear and legible.

If one requests a due process hearing, their journal may be important evidence in your child's case. Remeber though, that writings, journals, logs, calendars, and letters may be subpoenaed by the school district. Moreover, posts to FaceBook or other social media may also be subject to discovery by the district.

Therefore, assume that school personnel and their attorneys will read your papers and other writings or posts. Stick to the facts. Do not use the journal to report your feelings and frustrations.

When you write into your journal, write to the "Stranger" who has the power to fix problems (typically an Independent Hearing Officer or perhaps a Judge or Magistrate) . The "Stranger" has no idea who the student is or what the student is experiencing. So, especially at the outset, one must write to inform the Stranger about the needs of the student and whrer the school is failing to meet those needs. When the Stranger reads your journal, the Stranger will understand your perspective and more likely want to fix your problems.

Additional Resources

The Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, Inc. (COPAA) is an organization of attorneys, advocates, parents and other professionals. COPAA members work to protect special education rights and secure excellence in education on behalf of the 7.1 million children with disabilities in America. With over 1200 members nationwide, COPAA is at the forefront of special education advocacy The Ohio Coalition for the Education of Children with Disabilities (OCECD) is a statewide, nonprofit organization that serves families of infants, toddlers, children and youth with disabilities in Ohio, and agencies who provide services to them. OCECD works through the coalition efforts of over 40 parent and professional disability organizations which comprise the Coalition Attorney Pete Wright created a fantastic website with tons of resources to educate laypeople and Attorneys alike. He is a lion in the field and I have stolen er' that is LEARNED more from him than he will ever know. Attorney Andrew Cuddy is another lion in this field. He recruited me into the practice of special education law and knows how much I have stolen er LEARNED from him. Lastly, this article is a sligtly revised, totally unauthorized version of one found at Indiana and Texas Attorney Dorene J. Philpot's website (Philpot Law Office LLC). If one needs a lawyer there (particularly East Texas and Indianapolis), you could not do better.

The Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, Inc.

The Ohio Coalition for the Education of Children with Disabilities

WrightsLaw

The Law Office of Andrew K. Cuddy

Dorene J. Philpot Law Office

Special Needs Toolkit - Bully Free World

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