IEPs and E-Mail
Email. How did we live without it? IEPs are relatively new, not even 50 years old. Obviously, e-mail is even newer. And, as technology changes, IEP practice and regulations has to change too. The last time IDEA was reauthorized what 2004, so even that is a long time in the age of e-mail. Case law and OCR complaint decisions have helped shape some of what is acceptable in using email for your IEP.
Before you hit “send”
Here are some tips for using email to discuss and handle your IEP concerns and requests.
Can a school use e-mail to send out IEPs and related information? Yes. It just makes good business sense. It’s fast, it’s easy, and it is accepted practice. However, if a parent does not have a computer and/or email, all of the information must be presented to them in a format that they can access. This is per section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.
Can I “virtually” sign the IEP documents and return them via email? Yes. I have the OSEP guidance letter about this issue below. But again, it has to be accessible to the parent.
If I want to make amendments to the IEP, can that be done over email? Again, yes. Not every change to an IEP requires that the entire team convene in person.
Can school staff use personal email to handle IEP issues? It is not best practice, but it is not illegal either. This is an issue that would most likely be handled by Personnel/HR, as it likely violates school employment policies. But it is not against the law or addressed in IDEA.
The school told me that I can only email one person! This is also a very common practice, not just in schools but in many workplaces. It makes sense to have communication flow through one person. It prevents redundancy, confusion and other issues. Do not take offense if you have been asked to only communicate with one person on the team. IEP Staff often have very large caseloads and this increases efficiency.
Can the school put me on a “communication plan?” Yes. OCR has ruled in many complaint decisions that putting a parent on a communication plan does not deny FAPE to the child. (A communication plan is when the school asks you to only email one person, one day a week or something like that.) Except for extreme situations, there really shouldn’t be a reason to be continually emailing all the team members.
How long does the school have to respond to my email? This is not something defined by IDEA. If you click that link, you will see some timelines and guidelines to follow. Generally, common courtesy is to allow 3-5 days before I start pestering for a response.
Can all of this email be subpoenaed? Yes. You can also do a FERPA request for it, though the school may very likely say that the email does not exist. Should you find yourself in a situation where people are receiving subpoenas, email is eligible. Keep this in mind when you are sending email too.
Is staff email part of FERPA? Case law has determined that email is a part of a child’s educational record. However, it has been my experience that when we requested email that we were certain to exist, we were told that there was no such email. Unless you’re really deep into a big case, you have to let it go. We did not have the resources to hire more attorneys and force the school to turn over servers and stuff like that. You can (and should) include it as part of a FERPA request, but have a plan in case the school says “we do not have any such email.”
When should I send the IEP team an email? You can use it for just about anything. Email is a great way to build your data and paper trail for concerns that you have and supports that you are requesting.
Can I make official requests over email? Absolutely! And you should. It time stamps exactly when you made the request.
Guidance Letter about IEP and EmailOSEP-letter-email
IEP Requests over Email
Here are just some of the things you can request for your child over email. If you click those links, you’ll find templates for email and letters.
How to craft the perfect IEP Email to your team.
- Start with a scratch pad and paper.Jot down the requests, ideas and concerns that you have as they come to you. When you have a list, start an email. I know that some of my best ideas come to me while I’m driving or in the shower!
- Keep Email FoldersI keep several email folders on my account. Rather than hit delete, store them there. This makes it easy to find them when composing an email, particularly my annual parent concerns letter.
- Decide what you want to request for your IEP.What are you writing about? Chances are, I have templates.
Parent Concerns portion of the IEP
Request an IEP Meeting
Doing a FERPA or records request
Requesting an IEE
Manifestation Determination Review
FBA and Behavior Plan
- Be thorough and professional.Leave emotions out of it. Stick to the facts. Describe what you are seeing or recall incidents using factual details.
- Do not presume intent.When describing the actions of others, do not presume intent. We don’t know why people do things, and to assign intent only creates drama and complicates the situation.
- Open your email with the purpose.A good opening line to use is “The purpose of this email is…..”
- Close your email with your follow up.Be reasonable, but list your expectations. A good closing line is “Thank you for your time, if I do not hear from you in 72 hours, I will….”
- Proofread it.You want to appear knowledgeable, professional and courteous. Have someone proofread it. Yes, this is your child. But this is also a business letter.
- Always, always, always….sleep on it.This is advice that MUST be followed, particularly if this is a bullying, discipline, injury or other similar situation. SLEEP ON IT before you send it. Too often, we send things out in the heat of the moment when our emotions have the best of us. Have someone proofread it and sleep on it. If you still want to send it in the morning, send it.
I hope this helps. I don’t want anyone to get into hot water over something you said when you were emotional. Now, go re-read number 9 again.