What is Prior Written Notice or “PWN”?

woman-reading-paperIDEA is the federal law that governs special education. An important part of this law is Prior Written Notice or PWN.   It means that if your child’s school wishes to add, change or eliminate any part of your child’s special ed program, the school must first explain why, in detail, and in writing. NICHCY has a great explanation about PWN on their website.

Why is PWN important?

As with any process that is governed by laws, it is important that procedures be followed. Procedural safeguards help protect the process and that is what protects your child.

When should you receive PWN?

If your child is not yet receiving special education services, PWN should be given to you before the school evaluates your child. You then have the opportunity to respond to this written notice.

If your child is already in special education, PWN should be given to you when the school wishes to change her educational placement or services in any way. If you propose a change to your child’s IEP, and the school district does not agree with you and refuses to make the change, the school should provide you with PWN. If they do not, then ask for it. The PWN must explain all of the school’s reasons for refusing your request. It may also enable you to have a more thorough discussion with the school and hopefully arrive at an agreeable outcome.

Your child’s school should give you PWN within a reasonable amount of time before the school can make any changes to your child’s program. 

What should the PWN contain?

PWN must be provided to you in your native language. It should be written in plain, clear language (also part of the law). In other words, parents must be able to understand the proposed changes. It should not be written in a manner that makes it impossible for a layperson or consumer to understand. IDEA provides a template of what should be included in the prior written notice. You can see it here.  Wrightslaw also has tons of information on PWN and sample forms and letters.

Can you write your own PWN?

Let’s say you don’t agree with the school’s plan for your child. You can ask the district for the PWN to understand their reasons. Or you might even write your own PWN. Wrightslaw explains how to do this so that you write it in a way that follows the PWN template. After you submit it to your school, they would then need to respond to you in writing to provide explanations. 

Where can you go to get assistance?

In this and other blog posts, I have referred you to NICHCY’s and Wrightslaw’s websites. Another great place to go is the National Parent Technical Assistance Center. You will find Parent Centers located in most states. They assist parents by providing up-to-date information, and high quality resources and materials. Take advantage of this resource – it could be a lifeline!

Bottom line

Would you ever drive a car without knowing the rules of the road first? What would you do first? How would you do it? Where would you go?  Driving without knowing the laws could be disastrous!

IDEA is there to ensure your child receives a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). It provides a roadmap to follow for a smooth process for your child in special education. But there may be times when things don’t go smoothly. This is when the law can help you.  PWN is one of those provisions in the law that is there to help you navigate this system. Educate yourself on the process and soon you will feel that you are an equal player. The end result is that your child gets the help she needs, deserves and is to which she is entitled.

Remember, you need to know the rules in order to drive the car.
Have questions? Send them to AskUs@marchofdimes.com.

Note: This post is part of the weekly series Delays and disabilities – how to get help for your child. It appears every Wednesday, and was started on January 16, 2013. Feel free to go back to look at prior posts as the series builds on itself.  As always, we welcome your comments and input.

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