Published on December 22, 2010 by Jennifer Laviano

Sometimes it's difficult to know what to to be happy about as an attorney who represents children with disabilities. 

As you can imagine, the facts that support a “really great special education case” are, by definition, at best unpleasant, and at worst horrific.

It's an odd feeling, reviewing a child's special education records.  When I find procedural violations (sadly, this occurs more often than not), I get a little excited.  Why?  Because I know that these violations of IDEA have probably led to the very deprivation of appropriate special education programming which has brought the parents to my office.  It gives me the ability to verify my client's claims.  More importantly, I know that clear violations of the IDEA will give me the leverage I need to convince the school district's attorney that my client requires more, better, or different services.

But that doesn't mean I'm happy about it.

So, this all gets to the point of this piece, which is, quite simply this:

DO NOT throw out any paperwork that documents your communications with your school district.  

You'd be very surprised at what you have that is remotely related to your child's education, special education, or the possibility of special education, which might prove useful one day.

I recognize this is antithetical to the current trends of accumulating and keeping fewer things.  I get it.  I watch Hoarders too.  But I'm not here to arbiter whether you should hold on to your uncle's crappy golf clubs, or your mother's coats.  I'm talking about documentation of the communications between you and your child's school district.

I have actually had cases which have been won on the evidence provided by just one piece of paper, saved by a parent, many years later.

So, if you're trying to free up space in the garage, perhaps it's time to part with the cocktail dress you swear you'll fit into again one day…but please don't toss the letter you wrote Sally's teacher in 2nd grade asking if maybe she should be tested.



  1. Elise/aspergers2mom
    December 23rd, 2010 | 8:26 am

    Actually when my older son applied for accommodations for the SATs they requested everything we had (testing, IEPs, etc) from the time he was first designated as a 5 year old. Lucky we had draws of files or he would never have been granted extended time and alternative location.

  2. Kristina Rodriques
    December 23rd, 2010 | 12:06 pm

    In the interest of saving space (and not misplacing those important documents), I either scan and save, or copy paste (emails) all to disk. It can be time consuming at first if you’re a few years into receiving services, but well worth it in the long run (and much easier once you’re caught up and do it consistently). I’ve managed to consolidate ten years worth of educational documents and emails down to two DVD’s worth of data, and one 8gb flash drive for back up rather than the three file boxes worth that were competing with my shoes in the closet. Just my tip for parents out there in this situation!

  3. Michelle Bidwell
    December 23rd, 2010 | 8:04 pm

    One of the first things I learned in my quest to be a better advocate for my children was advice from Pete Wright’s website to start a 3 ring binder and save everything. Seriously. This was one of the first things I did, way back when my oldest daughter (now a freshman) was in first grade, was to begin a binder. None of my kids had yet been identified but I knew it was just a matter of time…

    Last year, my documentation was a critical piece to prompt the LEA to settle after we’d filed for a due process hearing. The district’s position began to crumble when their attorney insisted that the school staff claimed I’d revoked consent for the school to have any contact with my child’s mental health professional. In fact, I’d sent written communication to the school (which I saved) and written communication to the doctor that they could communicate by phone ONLY if I was included in the call and could communicate in writing ONLY if I was cc’d on all communication. I had not “revoked” consent at all. After that, it was downhill for the district when everything they insisted was “true” was promptly verified, in THEIR documentation, as being untrue.

    So, you’re right on the money and your advice is critical to all parents of students with disabilities. Save everything, it might be important one day.

    P.S. Question for you, Jen: I’ve begun to scan and keep all my documentation in electronic format (hoping to reduce the glut of papers in my house). Is it worth doing this or is the “original” hard copy all that counts?

  4. Jennifer Laviano
    December 23rd, 2010 | 9:55 pm

    Great points, Michelle. I would say this…having a digital copy is great but I’m old fashioned…in fact when I have a written document that’s important I believe in making several copies and scattering them to places all over the house or office! Plus, there are rules of evidence which can be tricky so I’d say, at least for now, keep that original!

  5. Jeff W
    December 23rd, 2010 | 10:44 pm

    This is a great post for all parents with an IEP. When we were in our third or fourth year of IEPs we had a change of administration with the school and the new IEP Team was being difficult to work with. We extended our meeting because of an impasse. We arrived at the next meeting rolling in a stack of boxes three feet high filled with paperwork from past meetings. We had homework assignments, report cards and every piece of communication and the IEPs on top. When we started to lay it all out on the table they quickly changed their attitude and we got the services we wanted with almost no fuss. Having this kind of ammunition may be part bluff but it actually works.

  6. JMD
    January 14th, 2011 | 12:57 pm

    Thanks for this post, Jennifer. Makes me feel better that I’m right saving years’ worth of documents. The problem is organizing all that info. Do you have any advice on that? I do like Kristina’s advice on scanning documents, but feel overwhelmed just at the thought of doing that.

  7. shayla
    March 25th, 2011 | 9:43 pm

    Yes, we have found multiple IEPs that appeared to be identical but upon inspection had different printed form revision dates,different goals and in one case even different eligibility dates. So make sure to keep originals. I did start to scan and that is when we discovered the changes in the records.