This is a rather cynical title. But, in case you ever need to seek the advice of an attorney or bring litigation against the school district over your child’s special education program, there are certain documents that you will want to be able to locate and present to an attorney. On a less cynical note, it’s always good to have an organized binder with your child’s important documentation. There are professional organizers who comment on this blog about organizing your life when you have a child with special needs and nothing in this column should be construed as going against their advice. This is more of an attempt to piggy-back on the concept of organization from a legal perspective.
Some of my clients have saved every scrap of paper related to their child, but somewhere along the way became completely overwhelmed with trying to keep it all sorted. I can sympathize with this—you start by throwing a few IEPs in a folder, they multiply when you’re not looking, and suddenly you have paper coming out your ears and no sense of how to organize it.
What to Save
My recommendation is to save the following for the duration of your child’s K-12 education:
* Official report cards and progress reports (computer printouts from online grade programs can also be helpful if you regularly consult these services for updates on your child)
* Assessment Plans
* Written communication with the school or school district (including emails)
Other items of that may or may not be important, depending on the case:
* Notices of Meeting—only if the District is continually canceling meetings on you, or has a habit of convening meetings with very little notice. If you have regular, timely meetings, a notice of meeting itself is not going to be important.
* Procedural Safeguards—Districts are required by law to provide you a copy of these and some people have enough for several bird cages. I do advise parents to read these and ask questions about anything that is unclear. However, as long as you have a recent copy from the District, there is no need to continue accumulating them. Sometimes, you can even save a tree and decline them at the IEP meeting. Just remember that you will be held to knowing and understanding your rights whether you accept or decline a copy.
* Mental Health records—including progress notes from treatment, any Discharge Summaries if your child has experienced a psychiatric hospitalization, and statements, receipts and cancelled checks for your out-of-pocket expenses.
* Record of any outside services—if you seek out private tutoring or educational services for your child, keep a record of the services received, including any pre-tests or progress summaries, as well as statements, receipts and cancelled checks.
How to Save It
A simple three-ring binder with tabs separating out the school years is great way to keep your documents organized. Within the section for each school year, you can group the documents as I’ve outlined above (assessments, IEPs, report cards, etc.). Another alternative is to have a separate binder for each group of documents and then organize them according to date within each binder. Either one of these solutions will work well over the long term and will allow you easy access to documents as you need them.
What to Bring to an Intake Meeting
Special education lawsuits have a two-year statute of limitations, unless your state law specifies a different time period. State statutes of limitations prevail over the federal two-year statute and there are states with longer and shorter timeframes. California’s statute of limitations is two years, so in most cases, our office wants to see all the documentation described above from the last three school years—documents from the period covered by the statute of limitations, plus one year before that. This allows us to see what services were in place when the statute of limitations began and will usually allow us to see a triennial assessment and review.
If your attorney suspects that you have a case for pleading additional school years outside of the statute of limitations, he or she can ask for additional documentation from you and from the school district.
This column reflects the views of Diana B. Glick in her individual capacity. It does not necessarily represent the views of her law firm or her clients, and is not sponsored or endorsed by them. The purpose of this column is to assist in dissemination of information about federal special education law, but no representation is made about the accuracy of the information. The information contained in this column is provided only as general information for education purposes, and topics may or may not be updated subsequent to their initial posting.
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