What Is Prior Written Notice (PWN)?
What is a PWN?
Prior written notice (PWN) is a document from the school district that is sent to parents notifying them of a change the school wants to make, or refuses to make, in the student’s IEP. PWN is a legal right afforded to parents that guarantees schools will provide a written explanation before making any changes involving a student with a disability.
Contrary to popular belief, this document does not have to be provided prior to an IEP meeting. PWN is not a meeting notice; it is a document notifying parents of a change before the change is implemented. The PWN makes sure parents have time to respond to any proposed changes, and it requires that schools explain why they may have denied a parent request.
As the California Special Education Local Plan Area (SELPA) of El Dorado County explains it, PWN is “a legal requirement per IDEA [the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act], and a protection afforded to parents and guardians per their procedural safeguards. IDEA includes prior written notice as a measure to ensure that parents have adequate notification and understanding of special education decisions made about their child, including elements of a free, appropriate public education (FAPE).”
School districts always have to provide a prior written notice documenting any changes discussed by the team at an IEP meeting, and before any changes are implemented. These can include anything to do with a student’s identification, evaluation, placement, or FAPE. PWN works in favor of students and their parents, as it provides proof of agreement to change or, if denying a proposed change, it forces schools to provide a written explanation as to why.
When used properly, PWN can be an empowering tool that creates a paper trail if you find that the district is continuously denying or pushing back your requests with no proper explanation. As Jeff Martin, Esq. writes on Wrightslaw, “Saying ‘no’ is too easy for some IEP teams. Articulating an explanation of why...is tough.” And if you find yourself filing for due process, that paper trail will come in handy.
What should a prior written notice contain?
There are very specific sections and language that school districts must use when providing a prior written notice. Dr. Pelangka reminds us that PWN is a “tool because formatting requires districts to specify and elaborate why they’re denying, and sometimes that can lead to changing their tune.” In other words, if the district is unable to specify why they’re denying a change, it may lead to their acceptance.
As outlined by section 300.503 of the IDEA, a prior written notice must include the following:
- A description of the action being suggested or refused by the school district
- An explanation of why the district suggests or refuses to take the action
- A description of each evaluation procedure, assessment, record, or report the district used as a basis for the suggested or refused action
- A statement that the parents of a child with a disability have protection under the procedural safeguards and that a copy of a description of the procedural safeguards can be obtained if this notice is not an initial referral for evaluation
- Sources that parents can contact to get assistance in understanding the procedural safeguards
- A description of options considered by the IEP team and the reason why those options were rejected
- A description of the factors that are relevant to the district’s proposal or refusal
PWN has to be provided as a stand-alone document in language that is understandable to the general public. The document should also be provided in the native language of the recipient, “unless it is clearly not feasible to do so,” according to IDEA. And because there are no federal or state specifications on how a PWN has to be delivered, PWN can be provided in a formal letter on letterhead, a form letter, a fill-in-the-blank form, an online system-generated form, an email, or a document within the IEP.
When should I receive a PWN?
You should receive a PWN any time the school district is proposing to initiate a change in the IEP, such as offering an evaluation or recommending a change in placement. You should also receive a PWN any time the district refuses your request for any type of evaluation or change to your child’s FAPE.
As Dr. Pelangka explains, the timeline in which you should receive your PWN varies depending on your state; a good place to start is by looking at special education law offices in your state, which usually provide timelines on their website. Dr. Pelangka says a good rule of thumb is around the two-week mark. In California, a district has fifteen calendar days to provide a PWN for evaluation requests. The timeline for responding to most other requests is “within a reasonable amount of time,” which is generally considered to be within thirty days.
What should I do if I don’t receive prior written notice?
Receiving a PWN is part of the law, and if you do not get one, the district is out of compliance. If the district is not able to provide reasoning for a denial or change, they cannot deny nor make the change, and the student and parents should have their request granted.
PWN is a parent’s right. If a district refuses to offer one or does not respond, especially in response to a denial, you can request one in writing, and bring in an advocate or lawyer to ensure timely resolution.
What should I do after receiving a PWN?
In the case of a denial, prior written notice is a requirement, but that does not mean it is an automatic move forward to due process. Once a PWN is received, you can reconvene with your IEP team to figure out the issue. You have the option to invoke “stay put” if you disagree with a change in placement or services, or you can request an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) meeting. The PWN is a formality stating the reason for denial so that it is on record. While it is not a requirement for furthering the mediation process, it is useful in the event that your case goes to due process.
Each response to a PWN will be different, given that the reason for a PWN is so varied. In this clip, Dr. Pelangka lists some possible outcomes to cases where there is a change in the IEP or to FAPE. For example, if an assessment is being granted, an assessment plan should be attached.