Practical Tips for Email Documentation: IEPs and Dealing with the School

Because I am new-but-not-really-new to having to fight for my son’s rights, I have an interesting learning curve.  I am very aware of the law, but not as well versed in the day-to-day practices that are highly recommended for those of us battling the schools.  It’s not dissimilar to having a less-than-amicable divorce, especially because documentation is so important.

I have always been a proponent of email, in large part because it is an easy way to establish a paper trail.  As such, I have been emailing The Boy’s teachers and administrators since the beginning of the school year with my concerns and requests.  As we have gone further into the school year, and I have realized that things are not running as smoothly as I had hoped, I am glad I have the emails as documentation, but have found that just leaving them in my inbox is not the best organizational practice, and it would be cumbersome to try to sort, save, and/or print just the relevant correspondence.

Through trial and error, I have found a great way to organize these emails with the idea of using them for documentation in the IEP process, and possible mediation process if necessary later on.  I hope we don’t have to go that far, but it is much better to be prepared and do the legwork now than to have to go back through several month’s worth of emails.

circlesFirst of all, I highly recommend using a gmail account for your correspondence with the schools, because it has capabilities that other email accounts don’t have.  I have put all of the teachers and administrators in a “circle” within my gmail account, labeled “The Boy’s School”.  I can click on that “circle” and view all of the emails from those people without the distractions of other, unrelated emails in the way.

Secondly, I have an existing Evernote account.  You can download a free desktop version, which is all I’ve ever used, and although I don’t use it often, it has some very neat capabilities.  If you aren’t familiar, you can check it out here.  It also has an app for smartphones, which can sync with your desktop app.  Evernote is like a huge notebook where you can store and organize stuff – stuff as small as an idea, and stuff as large as a document.  One of the great things about Evernote, that we will use here, is that you can create notes by emailing whatever you’d like to your Evernote account – it sets up a specific-to-you email for this purpose.

After you have a gmail account and an Evernote account, you can then select all of the school email addresses in your gmail account and apply a filter, forwarding copies of all of the emails from people in your school circle to your Evernote account (using that Evernote-specific email), thereby creating “notes” out of all correspondence with all of your child’s teachers and administrators. To do this, select all of the messages within a “circle”, click on the “more” button, and select “filter messages like these”.  Follow the directions from there, plugging in your specific-to-you Evernote email address.  It is important to note that the filter will only forward the emails that are received after the filter has been applied – you will have to forward each email that has already been received, yourself.

Evernote

You can also save texts to Evernote by either using an app that will do this for you (there are several), or by taking screenshots of the texts on your phone (do this on an iPhone by pressing the home and power button simultaneously), and emailing them to your Evernote-specific email.  If you have the smartphone Evernote app, it’s even simpler: After you have taken screenshots of the texts, you can open your Evernote app, press the “+” button to add a note, press on the camera icon, select “choose existing” which will take you to your camera roll, and you can select the screenshot you just took of the text from your camera roll.

You can even save voicemails to Evernote (or recordings of meetings!), if you have recording capabilities on your phone/computer, and can save them as an mp3 file.

Finally, you can merge notes (say all of the emails from his social studies teacher, so you can prove a pattern of disregard for the modifications she needs to be making for your son… for example…), and/or you can create a pdf of the selected note(s) by choosing “print” and instead, saving as a pdf (click on the radio button on the lower left hand corner in the print pop-up screen).

It helps to go into all of your notes, and change the date to the actual date of the correspondence, rather than the date you entered it into Evernote – you can do this by clicking on the “i” icon.  You may also want to tag your newly entered notes with the last name of those involved.  This is not necessary with emails, as Evernote will search the emails for the relevant names, but it is another layer of organization.

These tips can also be used by teachers to keep track of correspondence with specific parents, or by anyone who needs to organize emails, texts, and the like from specific people!

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