A Brief Overview
- Prior Written Notice (PWN) is a document that explains school district decisions about a student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP).
- Family members can request changes to the PWN if their concerns or positions are inaccurately described or left out of the PWN.
- If a family caregiver files a special education complaint, the PWN may be among documents reviewed in an investigation.
- PWN must be provided in the family’s native language.
When family members and school staff meet to discuss a student’s services, certain things have to happen. One requirement is for the school to take notes and share those notes with the family within a reasonable amount of time (usually a few days) after the meeting. Those notes are formatted as a Prior Written Notice (PWN). This document is shared after a decision is made and prior to changes in a student’s program.
For example, if the IEP team meets and decides to change a student’s placement (where educational services are delivered), that decision is written down on the PWN. The PWN includes information about how the team made its decision and when the student will start receiving services in the new placement.
Parents can ask for their positions and reasons to be included in the PWN
During a meeting, family members can specifically ask for their position to be noted in the PWN. For example, if a school district staff member recommends changing a service and the parent does not agree to that change, the parent can say, “Please include in the Prior Written Notice that I do not agree to this change in service.” Family members can make sure their reasoning is included along with their position.
Family members also can request changes to the PWN after a meeting if they disagree with the wording or if their concerns or positions are left out. They might also provide something in writing and ask for it to be attached to the PWN for the record.
If the school takes an action that the family continues to disagree with, the family member might use a PWN among documents filed with a formal complaint. The PWN shows how disagreements were managed and documented through the IEP meeting process and whether family participation in decision-making was honored.
Washington State’s educational agency is the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). On its website, OSPI guides families in what to expect in the PWN. According to OSPI, “The Prior Written Notice should document any disagreements with you and should clearly describe the reasons for this disagreement.”
PWN is an aspect of federal special education law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA Sec.300.503(b)).
In accordance with IDEA, a PWN must include:
- A description of the action proposed or refused by the school
- An explanation of why the school proposes or refuses to take the action
- A description of each evaluation procedure, assessment, record, or report the school used as a basis for their decision
- A statement that the parents of a child with a disability have protection under the procedural safeguards and how the parents can obtain a copy of them
- Sources for parents to contact to obtain assistance in understanding these provisions
- A description of other options that the IEP Team considered and the reasons why those options were rejected
- A description of other factors relevant to the school’s proposal or refusal
The school is required to provide PWN to the family when:
- The school plans to evaluate your child
- You’ve asked for your child to be evaluated and the school denies your request
- The school wants to begin or change your child’s identification as a “child with a disability”
- The school proposes or refuses a particular educational placement for your child
- The school wants to change your child’s educational placement
- The school wants to change aspects of the special education or related services that your child is receiving
- The school refuses a request from you, as parents, with respect to the educational services your child is receiving
Like all formal educational documents, PWN must be provided in the family’s native language.
For more information about PWN and other special education requirements, refer to the Procedural Safeguards, available for download in multiple languages from OSPI’s website.