Preparing the Master File | This Section

Much of the information in the following two sections comes from Chapter 9 of From Emotions to Advocacy – The Special Education Survival Guide, by Pam and Pete Wright. This is a very reader-friendly and well-organized guide that gives parents far more helpful information than a handbook can supply.

Parents cannot rely solely on their personal knowledge of their child if they want to advocate properly for him. In order to convey to others (teachers, administrators, tutors, etc.) what they know of their child and what kinds of services he needs to be successful in the educational environment, parents have to be experts and deal with professional educators as if they themselves were professionals in the field of their child.

Just as it is critical for parents to keep complete medical records in order to support their child’s healthcare, it is also essential for educational advocacy to keep a complete master file on a student’s educational experience. If parents can keep a well-organized and detailed master file of all educational records, reports, evaluations, letters, and even verbal communications, then they have a powerful means of convincing others not only to take them seriously but also to do what is best for their child. Putting together such a file takes time, patience, and careful organization. Many parents are so busy taking care of their children on a day-to-day basis that the creation and maintenance of such a file seem daunting. The importance of this file, however, must be stressed: If parents do not have a careful record of their child’s academic experiences, they will have a significant disadvantage when they try to advocate for him in an academic setting.

In putting together this master file, parents should know the following: Under FERPA (see Section III of this handbook), parents have the right to inspect all documents that pertain to their child’s education, and under most circumstances, schools will be willing to provide the parents with copies of these records. Parents should send a letter to the school or schools their child has attended and ask for full copies of their child’s file including all confidential information. It is a good idea to specify that nothing in the school’s file should be omitted from what they copy and send.  Similarly, parents should send letters to all relevant agencies and individuals who have worked with their child and ask for copies of their child’s files. Schools and agencies might ask parents to pay photocopying fees, but these fees should be reasonable.

Whether the document is a doctor’s note, a report card, or a correspondence between parents and school, every document should be dated and put in a binder in chronological order. Pam and Pete Wright suggest filing with earliest in front and most recent in back, but some argue that accessing the most recent documents is easiest when those papers are in front and the rest move backwards to the earliest at the back of the binder. Filing papers by category can lead to confusion because some documents do not fit easily into a single category. The goal is for parents to be able to access all relevant documents at a moment’s notice. When sitting in a conference in a principal’s office trying to convince teachers to change their approach to a child, parents are likely to be nervous. They will have control and confidence, however, if they can quickly access the support for their points when they need it.

Some tips for the file:

  • Keep your documents in a three- ring binder
  • Original copies of documents are valuable sources. When you have them, do not give them away, do not share them and do not mark them up. 
  • When using a hole punch make sure the holes do not ruin important information
  • Use sticky notes if you need to mark up a specific document
  • Keep a list of professionals and agencies that have added to your child’s file in the binder
  • Include files from doctors, mental health providers, teachers and administrators
  • Make sure documents are dated
  • Maintain a well organized log of notes that you might need to reference later
  • Keep a copy of all letters and written correspondence, including copies of written documents requesting copies of records
  • Keep file current and file important documents as they are received
  • It is a good idea to scan and keep a virtual copy of any written copy available on the cloud.  Think carefully before destroying written documents.

TIP: When buying a three-ring binder seek a silent D clip binder rather than a round clip binder. Papers are less likely to become torn or ripped in this type of notebook

In order to know what is in the file and in order to find each document with ease, parents might keep what Pam and Pete Wright call a Master Document List.  Essentially, this list is a table of contents for the master file, but it should include the date of the document, the source and writer of the document, the type of document, and whatever significance the document might have to the student’s education. With this list of the documents in the file, parents should be able to access quickly the papers they need without confusion.

If parents can find the means to do so, it is a very good idea to make a copy of the master file. With so much importance placed on one collection of papers, the risk of losing the file or of having it destroyed in some way is too great, even if it is treated with special care. Parents should make a copy of the master file and as the file grows, regularly continue making copies of the recent additions. If possible, keep the copy of the master file in a different place from the one you use on a regular basis.

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