Special Education Article
Organizing your child's educational records: thorough, consistent, and chronological.
Organizing educational records is an ongoing process that directly impacts on planning, ensuring an "appropriate" education, working with others, and your emotional wellbeing. This article is the first in a series that will address organizing your child’s educational records. Future articles will break down specific topics and concerns in much greater detail. There are as many ways to keep and organize records as there are different people in the world. The most important thing to remember about keeping educational records is to be thorough, consistent, and chronological.
You are the only person that you can depend on to keep and maintain complete and accurate records. In most cases record keeping will last over a decade, sometimes two or three. As a general rule, be thorough and keep everything. But, what is everything? What if you don’t have everything anymore? Once you’ve decided to organize it’s a good idea to make a record request. The school district is required by California Education Code §56043 to provide you with copies of your child’s cumulative records within five days of a written request. It’s also a good idea to reach out to any third-party providers that may have additional records.
It’s difficult to determine what may be important later. Keep the documents given to you. Documents have a way of being misplaced, destroyed, and written on to a point they are no longer recognizable. Make or ask for copies of everything you sign. It’s easy to hand over the copy you’ve signed and never see it again. You want to retain a signed and dated copy for your records. Ask for documentation or create a record. For instance, you may see a classroom behavioral log or a teacher might make a comment about progress or concerns. Ask for copies, documentation, and follow up with a written correspondence to that individual stating what you saw or heard. The correspondence becomes your record.
Create a consistent method. A method refers to how you keep records. A method also refers to your system of filtering what to keep. Having a consistent method makes record keeping and maintenance easier and helps ensure that you are being thorough. Before going further, let’s make a quick distinction between educational and medical records. You should keep medical records separate from educational records. Medical records can play an important role in helping identify the impact of a disability on a child’s unique needs but from an educational perspective they are very different.
In a perfect world your method will produce educational records that are easy to look back on and determine past perspectives, progress and current needs. To get there it’s best to eliminate duplicates. However, if a duplicate is an older document relied on to support a current document it’s a good idea to replace the duplicate with a single page referencing the original, the relied on date, and that the document was relied on. Keep originals over drafts unless the draft differs. If a draft is different, note the difference and keep the draft(s) behind the original. If a document is damaged, copy it and keep the best copy of that document in your records.
What about dates, handout and page numbers, staples, and storage? Ideally every document will have a date. Its good practice to make sure the current date is on the document you’re receiving. If the date is not entirely clear write it in the top right corner. If you receive more than one document, identify the document as a handout. For instance, if the document is the first of three you should write “H1 of H3” in the top right corner. Treat page numbers the same way. For instance, if there are five pages, page two should have “P2 of P5” in the top right corner.
Your final records should be bound. Three-hole binders are very common. In future articles we’ll discuss binding and whether moving to double sided pages is helpful for saving space. For the purposes of this article, put cleanliness above binding concerns. Resist the urge to modify past records unless it’s absolutely necessary. Should you use staples or paper clips to keep documents together? Staples can damage the integrity of the page(s) and make it very difficult for someone else to copy needed records. Paper clips are fine but they fall off. Ultimately, handout and page numbers address the problem of keeping documents together.
Keep a “just in case” bin of documents that don’t make it into your final organized educational records. In short, don’t rush to throw stuff out just because you have a bound set of records that you’re relying on. It may feel redundant to keep these extra records but the old colloquialism “out of sight of mind” will help justify keeping it around.
Keep your records chronologically, by date! It’s not uncommon to want to keep assessments, individualized educational programs ("IEP"), and behavioral support plans grouped in their respective categories. Special education law illustrates why chronology is the proper way to keep educational records. Special education follows timelines in requesting records, assessing, holding IEP meetings, receiving notice of procedural safeguards, and handling disputes. Chronological records provide a timeline that helps determine if things ran on time. Additionally, courts “look back” at what was known or should have been known at the time a decision was made.
On a final note, keeping records includes keeping digital copies. In fact, you may have audio and or video records that must be kept digitally. Always put the description and date the digital copy was made in the title of the file. Scan everything in, even if it’s messy, and keep an “all documents” file. Additionally, you should keep a clean and easy to print chronological copy of your final organized educational records as a single PDF (“Portable Document File”). Remember, you’re keeping records for yourself but will likely need to share them if you seek the help of others.