IEP 101: The Paper Chase
Simply put? SAVE. EVERYTHING. Every email. Every piece of homework. Every work sample that comes home. We'll walk you through how to organize it all for your IEP binder.
The first rule of IEP documentation: SAVE EVERYTHING
Every email. Every piece of homework. Every note from the teacher. Every work sample: from school, home, and/or independent therapies. Print everything, even emails to yourself.
We've found it helpful to have two binders: a 3- to 4-inch three-ring binder that will be your master binder (which you'll add to all year long), and a smaller one for your meeting binder (which includes copies of the documents that support your questions and concerns) that you'll bring to the IEP meeting. (We’ll talk more about how to organize your binders here.)
Now that you have your magic binders, it’s time to gather your paperwork (see our checklist of common binder documents here). Write the date of each document on the lower right-hand corner of the page. Arrange everything in chronological order. If you get in the habit of doing this regularly, it only takes a couple of minutes. When classwork comes home (or shows up in Google Classroom), write the date in the corner and pop it in your master binder. Done. Even paperwork that seems inconsequential at the time could be important later.
By putting everything in chronological order, you’re writing a story. Was your child successfully completing double-digit addition in September, yet being assigned the exact same level of homework at the end of the year? Was she unsuccessful at fractions, yet the teaching methods and assignments never changed? Did you send an email asking the school to follow the visual accommodations in the IEP, yet inaccessible work continued to be assigned? This is part of your child’s educational story throughout the year — you will look through it and mark where you have concerns and questions. Those are the pages you should copy and add to your smaller meeting binder to serve as examples during your IEP meeting — but more on that here. While it may seem tedious, take advantage of what you have in hand from school and can show in black and white. The unseen stuff is much harder to access and prove.
The second rule of IEP documentation: WRITE IT DOWN
You’ll hear this over and over: If it isn’t in writing, it never happened. Summarize every verbal agreement, every conversation, every meeting right after it happens. Start a “communication log” — on paper, in Google Docs, wherever it’s easiest for you — and keep all of your interactions, thoughts, and summaries in one place. You can begin the log by writing a summary after your IEP meeting, or sending a thank-you email to staff, or even an email to yourself. If you have a phone conversation with a staff member, send a summary of what was discussed and agreed or disagreed upon. If you don’t feel a formal follow-up is necessary, send an email to yourself summarizing the call. If you have a casual conversation with the teacher after school, and she tells you about what your child did that day, write it down in an email to yourself. Remember: if you find yourself in a situation where you disagree with the district later on, journal communications to yourself can be used as evidence, even in a due process hearing. Don’t write your feelings in these letters, emails, or journal entries — stick to the facts. The district can argue with your feelings, but they have to answer to the facts.