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Special Education: Communication and Letters

Eight Rules
Good communication with your child's school system is a must, especially if your child has a disability. It can take the form of informal notes to the teacher, a telephone call, emails, or a written letter. Here are eight rules to follow:

1. Keep a journal or folder of all communications with your school system. Besides letters, this includes extensive notes of all meetings and telephone calls, emails, and copies of notes written to the teacher in your child's planner.

2. Put everything in writing. Letters document requests and what is said in phone calls or meetings. This way, both you and the school will be clear on what is said, by whom, and when.

3. Use a pleasant tone of voice. No matter how upset you may be, if you stick to the facts, the school will perceive you as a concerned parent instead of a "nutcase." And just to be sure that the emotion is left out of your letter, sit on it for a day or two, and then have a trusted friend read it before you send it. After all, you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

4. Keep it short and to the point. State your child's needs clearly.

5. Use a positive tone. Stress the positive aspects of your child's experience and express what may work instead of bashing what doesn't. This will help you develop a good relationship with school personnel and you will become a better advocate for your child.

6. Keep copies of each signed letter and note you send.

7. Get written confirmation that your letter was received. You may need this information, especially if you disagree with the school system about your child's educational program.

8. Remember — education is a business. Treat all communications with a professional and business-like demeanor. The school system does.

Sources:
"Special Education and Related Services: Communicating Through Letter Writing" published by National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities.

The Parent Manual published by the Federation for Children with Special Needs, Boston, MA.

"How to Document Communications with the Public School," a workshop given by attorney Clare Vann at "Creating a World of Opportunities," a conference for families of children with special needs and for the professionals who serve them on February 9, 2002.

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