Why the Prior Written Notice is Your Best Friend

This form, at the link below, is your best friend. Look at it right now. If you are not from Iowa, you should google “prior written notice” and the name of your state and look at that form. It is required under federal law, so you all have one.


The Prior Written Notice is the notice to parents of the action proposed or refused as a part of the special education IEP process. It is the one thing that really documents the decision you make, or don’t make, for a student. On this form, you describe what is being proposed, all the things that were considered when making the decision, and the decision.

It is vital that you have this form, or forms, when you go to due process. Attorneys look for these, and, if you don’t have them, it didn’t happen. I have had the misfortune of sitting at a table with lawyers while the team described all the meetings they had and all the things they considered and tried and didn’t work and how this child ended up self-contained all day after many serious, serious situations. They met and reviewed the plan multiple times and made adjustments to the child’s schedule and services. AND then there is one on no PWNs for the child. Even though the staff have notes, and the meetings are on their calendar, and everyone agree all this happened, it didn’t happen as far as the documentation is concerned.

It is a PRIOR written notice. So, I do it before the meeting, right? NO! You write the form prior to communicating a decision and it would be very bad for you to fill out a PWN before you meet with the team and consider the decision. So, ignore the word “prior”. You are never wrong to do a PWN, so do one any time you think you should. If a staff person asks me if they should do a PWN in a situation I tell them, “If you are asking the question, the answer is yes”.

Even if you do an amendment to the IEP, it doesn’t give you the information the PWN gives you. And you fill this out when you REFUSE a change as well. For example, parent asks for a para and the team considers it and denies the request. You don’t make a change to the IEP in this situation, but you definitely document the discussion and decision on a PWN.

Make sure you include all the things you considered when making the decision. You didn’t only consider a self-contained classroom. Maybe you considered a para, or more time in the special education setting, or homebound, or a shortened day, or letting the student take a break when needed. This will be critical information to have as new teams work with the student in the future and weren’t present for all these discussions.

Additional information can be found at https://www.educateiowa.gov/pk-12/special-education/iowas-guidance-quality-individualized-education-programs-ieps/prior-written.

To summarize:

  • Fill out a PWN any time you make a decision about a student.
  • Saying no to a request is a decision.
  • Lawyers LOVE a PWN and will eat you alive if you don’t have them