Types of Letters
We have drafted some sample letters, which demonstrate some of the principles discussed in this section. These letters can be used as models in the advocate’s own letter writing.
Introducing your advocacy: Eventually, advocates will become known to the school districts, within which they work. They will develop a reputation, as an advocate. At such time no particular introduction will be necessary. Until then, it may be helpful to introduce yourself in terms, which accent your positive role in the educational process. It will also be important to provide the school district with an authorization from the parents, which will allow them to communicate with you and provide you with any educational records you might need. Clarifying issues: Very often the first communication an advocate might have with a school district will be a letter presenting the parent’s issues and concerns. This should be done in a way and with a tone, which is collaborative and informative.
Requesting information and records: One of the first things an advocate will want to do is to obtain a copy of the student’s educational records. (See Student Records for more information) The key to an effective records request is to be sure to be very inclusive in your request. If the advocate only requests student records, he will probably only receive the cum (cumulative) file. If the advocate wishes to obtain all student related documents it would be wise to enumerate all the different types of documents requested.
Legally schools may request a reasonable payment to cover the cost of copying files. The
convention is generally about 15 cent per page. Most school districts I deal with will send the
documents without demanding payment, if the request is polite and reasonable.
If receiving these records is urgent, it would be wise to politely advise the school district when
making the request. In my experience, making an unexplained time limit command is counter-
productive. Instead, I will follow the records request in about a week with a written query
asking if I could have an estimate of when the records will be ready. I might ask if the school
would prefer that I have the parent pick them up and when. The school will be aware that an
educational record is being created, without the advocate making any threats.
Practice note: If there is any concern that any documents might “disappear” from the file, it is sometimes wise for the advocate or parent to do a document review before the request of document copies is made. The advocate and parent can review all the documents in the file, noting documents of particular interest or sensitivity.
Requesting an IEP or other meeting: If an IEP or other meeting is required, the request should always be made in writing. Again, the request should be clear, precise and polite. If the need for the meeting is urgent, this should be explained. Suggestions of possible dates and times, which are convenient to the advocate and parent, has the appropriate collaborative tone, while putting mild pressure on the district to set the meeting. Again, the request is an educational record and starts the clock running. Schools understand this.
Request for Evaluations: All requests for evaluations should be in writing. It is also important to clearly indicate the rationale or purpose for the evaluation request.
investigate any suspected disabilities. The “suspicion” of disability may be raised by the
parent, a private provider, the parent’s advocate, as well as school personnel. When the
school does evaluate the child, the school has an obligation to evaluate all areas of suspected
disabilities. For these reasons it is important for the advocate to indicate, which disabilities
IEP Development: It is valid to request evaluation for the purposes of establishing
appropriate “present levels of performance” and measurable goals and objectives. If this is
then reason for the evaluation request, it is wise to state the areas, where baseline
information is wanted. Evaluations may also be valuable for determining the child’s strengths
and weakness and for identifying effective methodologies, interventions, and accommodations.
district’s evaluations, the advocate may request an independent evaluation. The law does not
require that the parent explain their doubts or issues relative to the evaluation. The district,
however, may refuse to provide the independent evaluations, if they deem that their own
evaluations are “appropriate.”
In my experience, most districts will not refuse an IEE if they feel that the advocate is
being reasonable and professional in the request. As a courtesy therefore I will
generally give some brief explanation of the reasoning behind the IEE request. It is
generally not to difficult to politely point out deficits in the district’s evaluation. It is
not necessary to attack the district evaluation, merely point out unanswered questions,
concerns relative to the instruments used, the disability’s interference in the assessment’s
validity, and the need for more precise recommendations.
Memorializing verbal discussions: Advocates love to say, “would you put that in writing?,” when a school official makes an unreasonable or inappropriate statement. School officials almost never comply. The solution is relatively easy. Simply write a letter to the individual, indicating that the letter is intended to memorialize the conversation, meeting, etc. Then state the individuals precise words as you remember them. Politely ask the person to make any corrections necessary.
Very likely there will be a response denying the statement, possibly putting a different slant on
the conversation. This is okay. Two things have happened. The individual is now responding – in
writing. Although the individual may not stand by her words, the chances are that the individual
is backing off her previously firm position.
Requesting an Informed Notice of Refusal: It is one tactic favored by many school districts, to treat parental requests as tentative requests. Their own refusals to these requests are viewed as merely “convincing discussion.” In order to keep the educational record accurate it is important to insist that there be a clear record of matters requested by the parent and those matters refused by the school district. The best way to do this is to request an Informed Notice of Refusal, whenever the school district has refused to agree to a parental request.
Complaint Letters: Sometimes it is necessary for an advocate to help parents write complaint letters to the state Department of Education (State Complaint). It is very important that these letters be very clear and concise and that they be focused upon issues which fall within the spectrum of cases that the state is empowered to deal with.