3rd edition, January 2011
Table of Contents
- Background information
- Letter writing: General suggestions
- Links to the individual letters
Throughout your child’s school years, there is always a need to communicate with the school’s teachers, administrators, and others concerned with your child’s education. There are also times when the school needs to communicate with you. This is particularly true when your child has a disability and is receiving special education services. Some of this communication is informal, such as phone calls, comments in your child’s notebook, a chat when picking your child up from school or at a school function. Other forms of communication are more formal and need to be written down.
Letters provide both you and the school with a record of ideas, concerns, and suggestions. Putting your thoughts on paper gives you the opportunity to take as long as you need to:
- state your concerns,
- think over what you’ve written,
- make changes, and
- have someone else read over the letter and make suggestions.
Letters also give people the opportunity to go over what’s been suggested or discussed. A lot of confusion and misunderstanding can be avoided by writing down thoughts and ideas.
However, writing letters is a skill. Each letter you write will differ according to the situation, the person to whom you are writing, and the issues you are discussing. This Parent’s Guide will help you in writing to the professionals involved in your child’s special education.
Note | The term “parent” is used throughout this Parent’s Guide to include natural or adoptive parents, foster parents, surrogate parents, legal guardians, or any primary caregiver who is acting in the role of a parent.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is our nation’s federal special education law. Under the IDEA, children and youth with disabilities are entitled to a free appropriate public education, also called FAPE.
Using the IDEA as a guideline, each state develops rules on how special education services will be provided to children with disabilities. Each local public school district in every state develops its own policies based on the federal and state regulations. Some states give parents more rights and protections than are in the federal law, so it’s important for you to know about your state’s special education regulations.
Under IDEA, each child receiving special education services must have an Individualized Education Program (IEP). The IEP is a written document that the school and parents develop together. Among other things, the IEP:
- describes the child’s needs, and
- lists the services that he or she will receive.
NICHCY’s 10 Basic Steps in Special Education shows how the special education process works, beginning with “I think my child may have a problem” and ending with the services that are provided to your child. If your child is receiving special education services, there will be times you will need to write to your child’s school. This Parent’s Guide provides examples of letters you may want to write.
Letter Writing: General Suggestions
As was said above, each state and school district has its own guidelines for special education. These guidelines tell you about the different steps, rights, and responsibilities in the special education process. Call the main office at your child’s school and ask for a copy of your district’s written guidelines. Also:
- Put all your requests in writing, even if it’s not required by your school district. A letter or email avoids confusion and provides everyone with a record of your request.
- Always, always, always keep a copy of each letter or email you send. It’s useful to have a folder just to store copies of these letters or emails.
How long will it take to get an answer to my letter or email?
Some special education guidelines give the amount of time a school has to respond to a parent’s request, some don’t. The IDEA says that schools must respond in a “timely manner” or within a “reasonable” period of time. Some states and districts actually define this period by a certain number of days. To find out what is true in your area, check your state and local regulations.
If you have not heard from the school within 10 working days of sending your letter or email, phone the office to make sure the school received your communication. Ask when you can expect an answer. If you have asked for a meeting or other services that require coordinating with several other people, it may take some time to do this. However, it is reasonable for the school to let you know that your request is being worked on.
If you need a letter answered in less than 10 working days (for instance, if you are moving or have other urgent reasons), let the school know that you have sent—or are delivering—a letter and need a response as soon as possible (or by a specific date). That way, the staff can try to get you a quick response.
To whom do I send my letter?
Many letters will go to your child’s teacher. You will send others to the school principal. In some instances, the letter may need to go to the local Director of Special Education or other administrator. Call the person’s office to make sure of the spelling of his or her name and the correct mailing address.
Some school districts handle special education requests at the local school level. Other districts assign this job to different administrative people who don’t work right in your child’s school building. If you are not sure to whom to send your letter, or cannot get good information on who to write, you can always send your letter to the principal. If the principal is not the one directly responsible for answering your request, he or she still is responsible for giving your request to the right person.
Also, send a copy of your letter to your child’s teacher, so that he or she will be aware of what is going on and know of your concerns.
In general, what do I say in my letter?
When writing any business letter, it is important to keep it short and to the point. First, start by asking yourself the following questions and state the answers in your letter:
- Why am I writing?
- What are my specific concerns?
- What are my questions?
- What would I like the person to do about this situation?
- What sort of response do I want: a letter, a meeting, a phone call, or something else?
Each letter you write should include the following basic information:
- Put the date on your letter.
- Give your child’s full name and the name of your child’s main teacher or current class placement.
- Say what you want, rather than what you don’t want. Keep it simple.
- Give your address and a daytime phone number where you can be reached.
- Always end your letter with a “thank you.”
What are some other tips to keep in mind?
You want to make a good impression so that the person reading your letter will understand your request and say “yes.” Remember, this person may not know you, your child, or your child’s situation. Keep the tone of your letter pleasant and businesslike. Give the facts without letting anger, frustration, blame, or other negative emotions creep in. Some letter-writing tips include:
- After you write your first draft, put the letter aside for a day or two. Then look at it again and revise it with fresh eyes.
- Read your letter as though you are the person receiving it. Is your request clear? Have you included the important facts? Does your letter ramble on and on? Is it likely to offend, or is the tone businesslike?
- Have someone else read your letter for you. Is your reason for writing clear? Can the reader tell what you are asking for? Would the reader say “yes” if he or she received this letter? Can your letter be improved?
- Use spell check and grammar check on the computer. Or ask someone reliable to edit your letter before you send it.
- Keep a copy for your records.
Who can help me with this?
There are many people who can help you with letter writing and other tasks related to your child’s special needs. There are disability and parent organizations in every state that can help.
Local chapters | Local chapters of state, regional, and national disability advocacy organizations can work with you. Most disability organizations are concerned with issues related to a specific disability as well as broader issues of raising a child with a disability. Their membership often includes both parents and professionals.
Your state’s PTI | Each state has a federally-funded Parent Training and Information Center (PTI). The PTI staff can help explain the laws, policies, and procedures for special education in your state. They can also help with problem-solving ideas. NICHCY identifies the PTIs on its State Lists, under the category “Organizations for Parents.” Find our state lists online at: http://nichcy.org/state-organization-search-by-state
CPRC | Community Parent Resource Centers (CPRCs) also serve families of children and young adults with disabilities. They provide information and training to help families obtain an appropriate education and services for their children with disabilities. They help families connect with community resources. Not every state has a CPRC, however. Find out if your state does by consulting the State List for your state (look under “Organizations for Parents”) at: http://nichcy.org/state-organization-search-by-state
State agencies | State agencies, like the Developmental Disability (DD) Council, Protection and Advocacy Agency (P&A), or state Department of Education can also help explain procedures and make suggestions. You’ll also find these identified on NICHCY’s State Lists (look under “State Agencies”), available online at: http://nichcy.org/state-organization-search-by-state
Local parent resource center | Many states now fund parent resource centers in local school districts. Ask your Director of Special Education if there’s a local parent resource center in your area.
Links to the Individual Letters
This ends the general introduction to the technique of writing letters to your child’s school. From here on, we’re going to present the letters individually so that you can choose to read the letter or letters most relevant to your situation.
Which letter would you like to read?
Discussing a problem
Requesting a copy of your child’s records
Requesting an evaluation for special education services
Requesting an independent evaluation
Requesting a meeting to review your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP)
Requesting a change in your child’s placement
Informing the school that you intend to place your child in a private school at public expense
Requesting prior written notice
Requesting mediation to resolve a conflict
Requesting a due process hearing to resolve a conflict
Filing a complaint with the State to resolve a conflict