What Exactly is Evidence?
There’s a very technical legal answer to this which I learned in law school. That was a waste of a few thousand brain cells. What we need to know for our purposes here is: Evidence is what you can put on the table to prove they did you wrong. The following are good examples of evidence to present to your school:
- Transcriptions of taped IEP meetings. Depending on the law of your state, you may have to tell the team that you are taping them. I suggest ALWAYS telling them. It puts everyone on their best behavior and the school, instead of using barbed remarks to put you in your place, will have to resort to eye-rolls and dismissive hand gestures…you can learn to ignore them….or say “Ms. Jones, I see that you’re rolling your eyes, has something upset you?” I would suggest ignoring.
Do not transcribe your meetings until you absolutely have to. A professional transcription must be done for court use and it’s expensive. Just keep the recording tucked away for a rainy day.
- Minute notes of all of your IEP meetings. You know how you have a meeting and some poor devil had to write down everything that was said and read it back to you all while everyone is ignoring her and you’re packing your stuff up and promising yourself that you will sue them, and their children, and their children, for the way you were just treated? Well, yeah…don’t do that.
Listen to every word she says. Listen especially to what she says you asked for and what the district said in return. Make sure it reflects EXACTLY what was said. These minutes become evidence of what rights you asked for and what rights they denied you. If she refuses to change the minutes, go over the issue again with the team and make sure she’s recording all of it. Do not leave until it’s done. If the team won’t repeat it, make a statement telling what happened and have her record it into the minutes. Something like this:
“I asked for a one-on-one para to help Suzie with her elopement issues since the school has let her escape 13 times so far this year. The school has refused saying “If we give every kid a para who escapes in this building, we’d be broke”. Something like that. Do what you need to do, but get it in the record.
- Prior Written notice. This can be due process gold. A Prior Written Notice (PWN) is a document that you are entitled to as a procedural safeguard. Procedural safeguards are things that are written into the special ed law to make sure that you don’t get the shaft; they are protections that are supposed to make sure that you know your rights.
The PWN is a procedural safeguard that makes the school put in writing the service or Individual Education Plan (IEP) term you asked for, the data they considered in refusing you that service, and their reason for doing so. You will not get a copy at the meeting; it will be mailed to you. It should be very specific. Warning: the school will make it as vague as possible. Tell them to do it again using the specifics that you got entered into the meeting notice.
In the above example, the schools PWN will state: “Parent asked for one-on-one para. School looked at academic record and declined.” Not okay. PWN should state exactly the reasons that you were given ” Parent asked for para due to chronic safety concerns, documented by record of 13 elopements. School cited financial reasons for declining para request.” Get the picture?
- Emails: Ahhh. Emails are a parents friend and a districts worst nightmare. Email everything. Every concern, every “thank you”, every change in the schedule or plan. Make a bullet proof paper trail. Use sentences like, “As you so kindly agreed in our last conversation, Bobby will no longer be restrained for not finishing his lunch on time. Thank you for helping him insert the feeding tube from now on. I think we’re making great progress here!” If she denies saying whatever it was, politely but firmly push back. She’s trying to create her own evidence trail too. Don’t let her get the last word on the thread.
- Journal. No, not the kind where you talk about what you really wanted to be when you grow up and how this all seems like such a bad joke. This is the kind you keep by your computer or your phone, and you date, time and record every single conversation, email, hand wave that occurs between you and the school. Everything.
Get a pretty book; make sure you like looking at it because it’s going to be with you like a bad wart. Pulling one of these out at an IEP meeting, mediation, resolution meeting or due process is a show stopper. It shows that you were taking your child’s education seriously.
The law of probability works like this: If you have evidence, you’ll probably never need it, but if you don’t you probably will.