Creating a master file that contains the enormous amount of paperwork your child with special education needs will not only keep you organized and aid you in preparing for all interactions with the school district but will give you a clearer understanding of your child’s special education needs and progress.
Schools often keep records in several different places, which leads to information and reports being misplaced over time. You never know when you will need to refer to a document from several years ago. By creating and organizing your child’s file, you will have all of the information regarding their special education in one place. PWSA | USA's Family Support Director Stacy Ward recommends using a 5-inch binder organized by year. You may have several binders by the time your child completes high school.
What Documents Should I Keep?
If your child has not started school yet, you can skip this section and head to "Organizing My File."
The first step is to gather all of the documents related to your child’s education. This includes emails, IEPs, evaluations, progress reports, report cards, all correspondence, samples of your child’s work, and medical documents related to their diagnosis. Request in writing a copy of your child’s complete file from the school district. Be polite in your request, offer to do anything you can to help expedite the request, and expect to pay a photocopying fee. Make additional copies of everything you receive. Write the document date in the top right corner of each master document - you may need to erase this later, so use a pencil.
Organizing My File
Add dividers to your binder organizing it by year. Begin filing your documents in your binder in chronological order. Some parents say placing each of the documents in protective sleeves is helpful in preserving the document, as well as looking through them quickly during a meeting. Each time you obtain a document, send an email or letter, print it, or make a copy, and add it to your file.
Create a table of contents or a document list that includes the date of the document, who the author is, what type of document it is (e.g., IEP, evaluations) and significance. You may not need to complete the significance for every document; however, you should note in each document that has testing data or is related to behavior challenges.
Your file will be an excellent resource for you as you advocate on your child’s behalf. Should you ever need to consult with an education advocate or attorney, having your documents already in a file and in chronological order will be a great assistance to them. They too will be able to see the bigger picture and gain an understanding of your child’s academic and functional needs.