Prior Written Notice PWN: The little known game-changer in the IEP process.

a mom on a computer happy about the prior written notice she received

Prior Written Notice-PWN

How many times have you heard phrases like these, at IEP meetings, when you’ve suggested something?

  • I don’t think he/she needs that.
  • Why don’t we ‘wait and see’ and talk about it in a few months?
  • I have to discuss this with {someone with more authority} and then I’ll get back to you. (and they don’t)
  • “why don’t we table that until next fall/summer/the end of days?”
PWN prior written notice

“I don’t get it…I did everything you said, the school still said no.”

Sound familiar? Despite your best efforts and taking recommendations from other parents or advocates, you’re still being told no. What if I told you that there is a tool built into the IEP process that can help you with this?

Enter the PWN. Prior Written Notice.

It’s going to happen, sooner or later you will be at an impasse in the IEP process.

Here’s the thing, the good guys don’t always win. Justice doesn’t always prevail. Life isn’t always fair. (I’m such a ray of sunshine today, no?)

I’ve always said, the IEP is not one document or one meeting, it’s a process. All that an advocate does for you is help you better understand how to navigate the process. Good special education advocates teach parents how to translate your concerns into language that the district is more likely to respond to and ultimately achieve getting what your child needs.

Still, at every step in the process, you have a decision to make.

You submitted your data, you have your ducks in a row, they still said no.

Yes, it happens and will happen. That’s just how it is. I don’t know why and I don’t ask why. I don’t feel that pondering the why of the situation helps me reach the ultimate goal of having the child’s needs met, so I don’t waste time on it.

The special education system is not fair. Not only is it not fair, but I’d also argue that the IEP process is stacked against parents.

But, it is what it is. This is the system. The best we can do is become the best we can at it, and work to change the system.

However, there is one tool in place to use. It is the most effective and most underused (by parents) tool in the IEP process. Say hello to your new BFF, the PWN.

What is PWN/Prior Written Notice?

The word prior can be confusing. Parents often mistakenly think that this means prior to the IEP meeting. It doesn’t. It means prior to a change.

Although the term prior written notice sometimes leads people to believe it is a document provided before a meeting, similar to a meeting notice, it is to be provided after a decision is made but before it is implemented.

Under IDEA, parents have the right to receive prior written notice from the school each time that the school proposes to take (or refuses to take) certain actions with respect to your child. Specifically, the school must provide parents with prior written notice each time that it:

  • proposes to initiate or change the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of your child
  • proposes to initiate or change the provision of FAPE to your child (their free and appropriate education)
  • refuses to initiate or change the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of your child
  • refuses to initiate or change the provision of FAPE to your child

I bolded those last two because those are the two that I find I am quoting to parents most often. So, if as part of your parental concerns that you wished to discuss at the IEP meeting, you asked for a different placement, more evaluations, or a different checkbox under categories. It doesn’t matter. If they refuse, they have to give you written notice as to why.

pwn definition
understand pwn prior written notice



Go re-read that graphic, and I’ll wait here.

Now, are the light bulbs going off? Are you having that “a-ha!” moment, if you didn’t know what PWN is before now?

PWN can end all of that for you. Next time you get a “no” in any form, just an email with “OK, I understand, please send that to me on a Prior Written Notice form, thanks.” If they don’t/won’t, call your State’s or US Dept of Ed and ask about compliance complaints about not following IDEA. Or file a Civil Rights complaint about a violation of FAPE.

It’s so important, that in our Procedural Safeguards (PA) it is the SECOND THING LISTED.

PWN in procedural safeguards

Here in PA, we call it a NOREP. Parents, ALL of what you considered should be on the NOREP, even the items they said no to. If they are not on there, disagree and write directly on the NOREP/PWN your concerns–that certain discussed items are not on the NOREP/PWN.

PWN is HUGE when used properly, and not enough parents use it. Huge, life-changing. You either get what you ask for or you get the written documentation that you asked for it, were denied, and the reasons that the district denied it.

You have documentation for going further and if you end up in Due Process or asking for comp ed. It says on the Wrightslaw website, “Saying no is easy! Coming up with reasons as to why they said no, and then documenting it, that makes it harder for them to say no to what your child needs.” I couldn’t agree more.

Prior Written Notice: Resources and Articles

Some of these resources are for school district use. However, I find it helps to know what districts are being told about PWN.

Prior Written Notice Examples

guidance-for-using-PWN-in-Sp-Ed-process-booklet


IDEA-part-B-PWN-form

There! That should be enough to get you going, right? When you have a good parent concerns letter and you follow up with PWN, it really is a game changer for families. Please note that some specifics such as a type of form, or what can be considered part of PWN may vary from state to state. Feel free to join our Facebook group and ask specifics if you need to.

2019 update: This post (and the Facebook group) are now 4+ years old. What I am seeing now is that as more parents get educated and savvy in their IEP game, IEP team members change their game too. As more parents are learning how to use PWN, I am finding that schools are now either refusing to give one, or they are giving parents a PWN that is incomplete or incorrect. This is why your data trail is so important.

a mom on a computer happy about the prior written notice she received

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