Prior Written Notice is an element of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the federal law that protects children with learning and other disabilities. Under IDEA, parents of children with LD are entitled to notification—Prior Written Notice (PWN)—any time the school district adds, changes, or refuses educational services for their child. In addition, PWN applies when a district wants to evaluate a student: They must inform parents in writing within a “reasonable time” before they engage in the evaluation.
Timely, Understandable, & Comprehensive
IDEA requires that PWN be submitted to parents in a timely manner. While there are no specific “timeline” requirements, timeliness generally means before district action is taken, and in a reasonable amount of time for parents to accept or reject the proposed service.
Because parental understanding of the proposed district action is at the heart of the PWN requirement, the content of the notification must be “comprehensive” and understandable. According to the U.S. Department of Education, if “a parent does not understand the services being proposed, it follows that the parent could not have agreed to the proposed services.”
The “comprehensiveness” requirement means that the documentation provided renders parents adequately informed of the action(s) being taken, offers them an “opportunity to voice any concerns or suggestions,” and provides “sufficient information to ensure that the parent understands the rationale behind [the district’s] decision making.”
Parents must also be informed about the nature and basis of potential disagreements and their ability to seek dispute resolution procedures.
Parents should be aware that PWN always contains several key elements as dictated by the law. These include:
- A description of the action proposed or refused
- An explanation of why the district proposes or refuses to take action
- A description of other options the IEP team considered and the reasons for rejecting those options
- A description of each evaluation procedure, assessment, record, or report the district used in its rationale for taking the action
- A description of other factors that were deemed relevant to the district’s action
- A statement informing parents that they are protected under the IDEA’s procedural safeguards along with an explanation of what procedural safeguards are available to them
- Resources that the parent may consult to get assistance in understanding PWN requirements generally
PWN that lacks one of these elements is not legally compliant.
Following are examples of commonly occurring instances where PWN is required:
- Evaluation and re-evaluation
- Refusal to evaluate (including refusal to provide an independent educational evaluation)
- Parental consent for evaluation
- Ineligibility determination for services
- Change in services or accommodations/modifications
- Identification and/or change in identification
- Termination of categorical identification
- Initial placement determination or placement alteration
- Change in least restrictive environment (LRE) and continuum of possible placement alternatives
- Disciplinary actions altering placement
- After IEP proposal or amendment
- Change in transportation arrangements that are part of the child’s FAPE
- Change in method of assessment
- Provision of “comparable services”
- Refusal to convene IEP team meeting after parental request
Some instances where PWN is not required include:
- General screenings
- Observations conducted for “instructional purposes”
- State-level assessments
- Evaluation of progress on annual goals
- Implementation of intervention strategies and changes in course schedule
- Classroom assignment
- Teachers assignment
Matt C. Saleh is a Research Associate at the K. Lisa Yang and Hock E. Tan Institute on Employment and Disability at Cornell University.