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
What you wanted
What you were told
Your log is a memory aid and will help you remember what happened and why.
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!
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.