What Is Prior Written Notice (PWN)?

Article
Nov. 4, 2022Updated Dec. 6, 2022

While schools and districts can propose or deny changes to your child’s individualized educational plan, or IEP, you have the right as a parent to be a meaningful participant in the decision-making process. This means being informed of what the changes are and why they are happening — in writing. This is called a prior written notice, and it can help you better navigate the IEP process (with the law on your side!).

Can a prior written notice keep you informed and make sure your voice is heard? Can a prior written notice help you get educational requests for your child approved? The short answer is yes! We spoke with special education advocate and owner of KnowIEPs, Dr. Sarah Pelangka (BCBA-D), as well as Undivided education advocate Lisa Carey to break down what prior written notice is, what to do after receiving one, and how it can be used to help students.

What is a PWN?

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:

  1. A description of the action being suggested or refused by the school district
  2. An explanation of why the district suggests or refuses to take the action
  3. A description of each evaluation procedure, assessment, record, or report the district used as a basis for the suggested or refused action
  4. 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
  5. Sources that parents can contact to get assistance in understanding the procedural safeguards
  6. A description of options considered by the IEP team and the reason why those options were rejected
  7. 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?

As with everything when it comes to your child’s IEP, if you have to make a request, do it in writing! Wrightslaw offers an example of a follow-up letter here.

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.

Prior written notice examples

When schools switched to distance learning during the pandemic, every student in California had an automatic change of placement. Dr. Pelangka explains that because of how the law is written, the change to virtual instruction was considered a change in FAPE, thus triggering a PWN from districts to all families that documented this change. Changes to services and specialized academic instruction (SAI) minutes due to shorter school days as well as loss of certain accommodations that could not be provided in a virtual setting (such as a 1:1 aide) may have also occurred.

Key takeaways

PWN gives you the ability to respond to changes that the school or district wants to make. If you find yourself disagreeing with the proposed changes, you can dispute them in writing. You have the option to invoke “stay put” if you disagree and start the process for resolving the disagreement. Likewise, if you request a change that the district refuses, you can ask that they put their reasons into a PWN. Then, you can try to resolve the disagreement.
Tags:

Contents


Overview

What is a PWN?

What should a prior written notice contain?

When should I receive a PWN?

What should I do if I don’t receive prior written notice?

What should I do after receiving a PWN?

Prior written notice examples

Key takeaways

Join the Undivided Community to get more resources like this in your inbox

Related Parent Questions

What if I disagree with my IEP team?
Should a parent and the IEP team be unable to reach an agreement, a parent has the right to resolve disputes with the IEP team through mediation, a resolution session, due process hearings, alternative dispute resolution (ADR), or by filing a complaint with the state.
What can I do if my child is not getting the services/supports they need?
The law provides several ways for parents to resolve disputes, including mediation, a resolution session, due process hearings, or a state complaint. If you have determined that your child’s IEP is not being followed, you can request a meeting to begin the process.
Do I need a lawyer to go through due process?
Filing a due process complaint is a legal process like a lawsuit, so it's recommended that you hire an attorney or have an organization file the complaint on your behalf.
What does "stay put" mean for IEPs?
If you disagree with the school’s offer during an IEP meeting, you can refuse to sign the new IEP, and the old IEP still applies, including the goals.
Can I keep my child's previous IEP or placement if I disagree with the new one?
If you disagree with the school’s offer during an IEP meeting, you can refuse to sign the new IEP, in which case the old IEP still applies.

Promise Image
Each piece of content has been rigorously researched, edited, and vetted to bring you the latest and most up-to-date information. Learn more about our content and research process here.
A Navigator is your Partner at each turn
Every Undivided Navigator has years of experience supporting families raising kids with disabilities or parenting their own. Partner with an Undivided Navigator for a free Kickstart to learn first hand what support feels like!
tick-icon
Identify near-term goals and priorities
tick-icon
Develop a vision for your child and family
tick-icon
Map out strategies to execute near- and long-term goals
“It’s so helpful to have one place that you can go to get many answers.”–Leeza Woodbury, with Navigator Kelly since 2020
*Currently offering Navigator Kickstarts to residents of California