Writing State Complaints: Stick to the Facts

Parents often write state complaints under a veil of pain and frustration. Whether they have basic or more advanced knowledge of IDEA 2004 and implementing state regulations, emotions feature prominently in their writing, as do adjectives and adverbs, and a ton of information that isn't necessary.

Below you'll find an example of a complaint that was written in 2017 and a version of how it might be tightened to focus on the facts.

Although the overall length of the two versions is about the same, pay attention to the length of the sentences, the formatting, the new information added, the information deleted, and so on.


2017 Version and Tightened Version

2017 version:

FCPS failed to conduct a full and individual initial evaluation before initial provision of special education and related services to [Student]. Its evaluation was not sufficiently comprehensive to identify all of [Student's] special education and related service needs, whether or not commonly linked to the disability category in which [Student] was suspected.

Tightened version:

FCPS denied FAPE and failed to administer a comprehensive initial evaluation.

* * *

2017 version:


1) May 18, 2016:

When Principal Melaney Mackin stated, “We only test for eligibility,” she confirmed that Silverbrook ES does not ensure that “assessment tools and strategies that provide relevant information that directly assists persons in determining the educational needs of the child are provided.” Her response also confirmed that the evaluation was “not sufficiently comprehensive” to identify all of [Student's] special education needs."

2) June 8, 2016:

After limited additional KTEA subtests were administered, [Student} presented with Listening Comprehension deficiencies. This was not changed on the BCD or updated on [Student's] IEP until after the start of the 2016/17 school year.

Tightened version:

1. Spring 2016:

FCPS administered initial evaluation.

2. May 18, 2016:

FCPS presented results of initial evaluation.

Parent stated FCPS didn't evaluate all areas of suspected need.

Principal Melaney Mackin stated, 'We only test for eligibility.'

Parent requested additional testing.

FCPS proposed administering a reevaluation.

3) June 2016:

FCPS administered reevaluation.

4) June 8, 2016:

FCPS presented reevaluation to Parent.

FCPS identified additional areas of need.

Parent restated FCPS's evaluations didn't evaluate all areas of suspected need.

FCPS refused to do additional evaluations.

Parent was not aware of the right to request an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE).

5) Fall 2016:

FCPS refused to hold IEP meeting during Summer 2016 to add additional areas of need to IEP.

FCPS waited until after start of 2016-17 school year to update Student's IEP.

* * *

2017 version:

3) September 17, 2016:

[Parent] met with Jean Massie to discuss [Parent's] concerns related to [Parent's] experiences of the previous year, and told her that over the summer [Parent] reviewed the evaluation of a third grader at Silverbrook ES who was administered almost the exact same subtests as [Student], but who had a different academic profile. This provided additional proof that Silverbrook is not providing full or individual evaluations, or evaluations that are sufficiently comprehensive.

Tightened version:

I'd delete this altogether. The complaint is about one student, not two. The conversation with Jean Massie doesn't state that Parent showed Jean Massie the third grader's evaluation, so there's no proof that Parent provided hard evidence that FCPS was administering the same subtests to numerous students, even though the students have different areas of suspected needs.

* * *

2017 version:

4) 2016/17 school year:

[Parent] continued to ask about, and express [Parent's] concerns about, visual and auditory processing, noting that [Parent] believed auditory processing was missed during the previous evaluation and that visual processing was not being addressed. (see e-mails below)

Tightened version:

6) 2016–17 school year:

Parent repeatedly stated FCPS failed to provide a comprehensive initial evaluation and reevaluation, and expressed specific concerns related to auditory and visual processing.

FCPS refused to administer additional evaluations.

* * *

2017 version:

5) May 15, 2017:

[Student] was tested at Gallaudet University and diagnosed with Auditory Processing, with a deficit area of Auditory Integration.

Tightened version:

7) May 15, 2017

Parent paid for private assessment at Gallaudet University.

Gallaudet identified Student with Auditory Processing deficit in area of Auditory Integration and recommended services and accommodations.

* * *

Although both versions are close in word count, the tightened version sticks to the facts, isn't as wordy, and is scannable.

Pages of dense text are tiring for even state investigators to read. Although they're supposed to do comprehensive, unbiased investigations, that isn't always the case. The U.S. Department of Education's (USDOE) Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) has identified too many problems with state complaint investigations to believe State Education Agencies (SEAs) are partnering with Comprehensive and Unbiased when investigating complaints. Make it easy for them to understand and scan.

Ask yourself if the information you're adding advances the case you're making or just makes you feel good about pointing out something else wrong with the Local Education Agency (LEA). What's your motivation? Do you want to get the LEA in trouble or help your student or both? My suggestion: Work through the lens of helping your student and/or students of anyone with whom you're working.

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