Three Essential Parent Special Education Advocacy Tips to Prepare for the Upcoming School Year

As a dedicated special education attorney in Pennsylvania, I’ve advised countless parents on navigating the unique challenges the new school year presents. Based on my years of expertise, here are three essential special education advocacy tips to help you prepare.

  1. Understand Your Special Education Rights

The first step towards a successful school year lies in understanding your rights. Pennsylvania special education law affirms the right of every child, regardless of disability, to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), your child is entitled to an education that is tailored to their unique needs.

Action Steps:

  • Invest some time to familiarize yourself with IDEA and Pennsylvania’s specific regulation.
  • Keep an updated copy of your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) and be aware of its contents.
  • If you’re unsure, consult with a special education attorney or advocate.
  1. Stay Involved and Communicate with your IEP team.

Effective communication with your child’s teachers, school staff, and IEP team is essential. Keeping open lines of communication can ensure your child’s needs are met consistently.

Action Steps:

  • Initiate regular check-ins with your child’s teacher and therapists.
  • Attend all IEP meetings and stay actively involved in planning and decision-making.
  • Clearly articulate your concerns and suggestions and be sure to send confirmation emails.
  1. Organize Your Documents in an IEP Binder

Keeping your child’s educational documents organized can make all the difference in meetings and discussions related to your child’s education. This can include report cards, IEPs, progress reports, evaluation reports, and any correspondence with the school.

Action Steps:

Preparation is key when it comes to navigating the upcoming school year. By understanding your rights, staying actively involved in your child’s education, and keeping your documentation organized, you’re setting the stage for your child’s success.

Remember, as parents, you are your child’s biggest advocates. Stand firm, ask questions, and demand the best for your child. Together, we can ensure the upcoming school year is a successful one for your child.

A Five-Year Streak: Attorney Jonathan Steele Continues to Shine as a Rising Star

Headshot photograph of attorney Jonathan Steele

We are thrilled to share an exciting piece of news with you today. Our esteemed colleague, Attorney Jonathan Steele, has been selected for the notable 2023 Pennsylvania Rising Stars list for Super Lawyers — and it marks his fifth consecutive year of receiving this prestigious recognition!

Super Lawyers is a respected rating service that identifies exceptional lawyers from more than 70 practice areas, all of whom have attained a high degree of peer recognition and professional accomplishment. The selection process is rigorous, involving comprehensive independent research, peer nominations, and thorough peer evaluations.

The Rising Stars list particularly acknowledges top-tier, upcoming attorneys — those who are 40 years old or younger, or who have been in practice for 10 years or less. Just 2.5 percent of lawyers in the state earn a spot on this distinguished list, underscoring the exclusivity of this honor.

Jonathan’s consistent recognition is made all the more special because of his commitment to families in the realm of special education law. His practice is dedicated to ensuring our children receive the support and services they need and deserve.

Please join us in congratulating Jonathan on this well-deserved honor! His commitment to navigating the complexities of special education law continues to positively impact our children’s lives, and we are truly proud.

The Importance of Confirmation Emails

A top-down view of a computer keyboard with keys rearranged to spell out the word 'EMAIL' in capital letters.

In today’s digital age, phone calls may seem like a casual, fleeting mode of communication. However, when it comes to matters of special education, every interaction counts, and we know when a school calls- it is usually important and not positive.

Preserving the content of these conversations can help win or avoid a due process hearing. Unfortunately, not every state permits the recording of phone calls. For instance, in Pennsylvania, it is illegal to record a phone call without the consent of all parties involved. This is where email documentation can be an invaluable tool.

After every phone call with school personnel, consider sending a confirmation email. This email serves as a written record of the conversation, capturing essential details, agreements, and points of discussion. This can be critical in ensuring your child’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is correctly implemented, and their rights are upheld.

So, how should you write this email? Here are some recommendations:

  1. Be Timely: Send the email as soon as possible after the phone call. This will help ensure that all the details are still fresh in your mind.
  2. Keep it Professional: While it’s important to maintain a friendly rapport with your child’s teachers and administrators, remember that these emails may serve as official records. Use a polite, professional tone and avoid casual language or jargon.
  3. Details Matter: Include the date and time of the call, the name of the person you spoke with, and their position. Also, mention the main topics of discussion during the call.
  4. Clarify Actions and Decisions: State any decisions made, actions agreed upon, or follow-up needed from the school staff. This is especially important for things that will affect your child’s education and services.
  5. Maintain Clarity: Ensure your email is easy to read and understand. Use bullet points or numbered lists for different topics, if necessary.
  6. Request Confirmation: At the end of the email, request that the recipient confirm the content. This way, you have their agreement in writing as well.

Here’s an example of how such an email might look:

Subject: Confirmation of Phone Conversation on [date]

Dear [Recipient’s Name],

I am writing to summarize and confirm the details of our phone conversation on [date] at [time].

During our call, we discussed the following topics related to my child, [Child’s Name]:

  1. Topic 1: Here, summarize the main points of the conversation regarding this topic.
  2. Topic 2: Continue in this manner for each topic of discussion.

As per our conversation:

  • Decision/Action 1: Summarize the decisions made or actions agreed upon.
  • Decision/Action 2: Continue in this manner for each decision or action.

Please review this summary and respond to confirm its accuracy or to provide any necessary corrections or additions.

Thank you for your attention to these matters.

Sincerely, [Your Name]

Remember, this practice is about ensuring clear, mutual understanding and upholding your child’s rights. It’s not about trickery. Rather, it’s a proactive way of ensuring your child’s needs are not negatively impacted by poor or inaccurate communication.

I hope you find these tips useful. Documenting your communications can provide peace of mind, as well as serve as a crucial tool in advocating for your child’s education.

Educational Records Quick Review- How to Request Educational Records- Sample Letter Included

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The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) protects the confidentiality of your child’s school records and your right to access those records. The IDEA and its regulations also provide parental rights associated with access to student records. 

Under these laws, a school or State educational agency must provide a parent with the opportunity to inspect and review their child’s education records within a reasonable period of time, but no more than 45 calendar days following receipt of the request. There are special circumstances where this timeline may be shortened, but there are no circumstances that extend this deadline.

What School Records Can you Request?

“Education records” are records that are directly related to your child and that are maintained by an educational agency or institution or a party acting for or on behalf of the agency or institution. These records include but are not limited to grades, transcripts, attendance records, student course schedules, health records, student discipline files, and special education records. 

How to Request Your Child’s Records:


If you have a good relationship with your school and are requesting records for non-litigious reasons, we suggest adopting an informal approach to requesting records. If there is a specific document you need, simply request a copy of that document from your usual contacts at your child’s school, such as your child’s case manager, classroom teacher, or the school secretary. Requesting specific documents from trusted staff and avoiding the legalese included in more formal FERPA requests can expedite your receipt of records. 

Even with an informal request, it is best practice to make the request in writing. An email request provides a time-stamped record of your request when a phone call does not. If you choose to make an initial request via a phone call, send a confirmation email after your call that summarizes what you discussed. 


If you do not have a good relationship with your school or are requesting records due to a dispute or because you’re contemplating filing a special education complaint, it may be better to provide a more formal and detailed request. 

There is no specific form or method you must use to request education records for your child. However, be sure to check your school’s website to see whether they have a specific procedure laid out for records requests. Schools will often designate an administrator as their “FERPA Officer” to whom all requests should be directed. Not following your school’s FERPA request procedure may delay your receipt of the records. 

If your school or agency does not specify a FERPA point of contact, we suggest you provide the request to either your school’s Director of Special Education, Director of Pupil Services, the Superintendent/CEO, or other school staff member that you trust. 

When in doubt, you may use the below email or letter template to request records for your child. If there are particular records that you are interested in, be sure to specifically include them in your request. 


Subject: FERPA Records Request

Dear [FERPA Contact],

I am requesting a copy of all of [Child’s Name] educational records. I understand I am entitled to these records under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. 

This request includes, but is not limited to, the following items: 

  • Permanent Records such as: [Student’s] identifying information, [Parent’s] name and address, academic transcripts/test scores, attendance records, accident and health records, honors and rewards received, participation in school-sponsored activities
  • Temporary Records such as: disciplinary information, class schedule, test scores, family background information, teacher, anecdotal information, verified reports from non-school persons or agencies
  • Special education records including all IEPs and Evaluation Reports
  • Speech and Language, Physical, or Occupational Therapy Reports/Evaluation
  • Social work reports/assessments
  • Psychological evaluations and source data
  • Progress reports and source date
  • Special education files including reports of multidisciplinary staffings
  • Health history
  • Verified reports from non-school persons or agencies which were part of special education decisions
  • All email correspondence related to [Student]

Please contact me should you need additional information. 


[Your Signature]

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Going to an IEP meeting? Be sure to bring your lab coat.

I had a wonderful second-grade teacher. To this day, I can’t spell Pennsylvania without hearing the rhythmic cheer she taught us to quickly master the spelling – always ending with a big YAY!

I also remember her lessons on the writing process. She drove home the separate steps of the process by reminding us that each step was a different job. When it was time to revise our work, the whole class wore decorated visors that said REVISOR across the brim.

This physical reminder helped us maintain our focus on reworking our writing instead of straying into the other steps in the process. A similar idea can help parents at their next IEP meeting.

To make the shift from parent to advocate – put on your lab coat.

Just like the writing process, the IEP process may require a parent to play different roles as the IEP is completed. At times, a parent may be singularly focused on sharing information about their child. This can include concerns for their education, their strengths, and weaknesses. At some point, the focus should shift to evaluating what the school is doing with this and other information to plan for your child’s progress.

Making this change may not come easy. It is difficult to leave the comfort of sharing information about our children that comes naturally for parents. The pressure of being something other than “just a parent” in a room full of trained educators can be difficult.

To help ease this change, an imaginary lab coat can take the place of my 2nd-grade visor. It is time to think like a scientist instead of a parent. Assuming the attributes of a scientist can help parents ask appropriate questions and evaluate the quality of a plan.

Scientists like writers use a specific process to do their work. The scientific method provides a step-by-step approach to answer questions and evaluate claims. The process values objective and observable data. It doesn’t matter what the scientist feels. Only observable data is relevant. It also requires scientists to reevaluate their position before coming to a conclusion.

The scientific method also happens to mirror the IEP process. The process begins with observations. For special education, that means completing evaluation reports or collecting present level data. Then, the IEP team uses that data to hypothesize or estimate where they hope your child will be one year from the start of the IEP. These hypotheses form our annual goals. Next, the team gets to work and follows the IEP. The success of the IEP is then monitored by conducting progress monitoring. This progress monitoring data then starts the cycle over again, with the team using the success or failure of the previous year to inform what to do during the next IEP.

Thinking like a scientist can help parents make sure this cycle is running effectively.

Would a scientist be pleased with the following example:

  • Observe: Billy is bad at math.
  • Hypothesis: Billy will improve his math by getting a B in math this year.
  • Experiment: Billy receives regular education math instruction.
  • Analyze: The progress report says Billy is making progress.
  • Observe: Bill improved his math grade last year but had many opportunities to retake tests and earn extra-credit.

The answer should be no. However, many parents are so pleased to see an improved math grade, they don’t question how that grade improved. Did Billy actually improve his math skills? What math skills presented the problem to begin with? How do I know that skill isn’t going to be left behind next year?

By thinking like a scientist Billy’s IEP may read a lot differently.

  • Observe: Billy is behind his peers in completing word problems. His test scores show he can correctly solve grade level addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division problems.
  • Hypothesis: Given a grade level two step word problem, Billy will identify the correct operation [+ – x ÷] 85% of the time in 4 out of 5 opportunities.
  • Experiment: Billy will receive direct math instruction in a learning support pull out environment.
  • Analyze: The progress report contains charts depicting Billy’s progress over the year.
  • Observe: Billy identified the correct operation 85% of the time in 4 out of 5 opportunities- as demonstrated by charted data of the progress monitoring attempts.

Hopefully, by putting on your imaginary lab coat and thinking like a scientist you can take a deeper look at understanding your child’s IEP.