Physician School Input Letters: “DOs” and “DON’Ts”

1)  DO give your input, in writing, to the child’s school team. Include as much information as you can regarding the child’s diagnosis, course of treatment, needs, and challenges.


2)  DON’T address the letter “To Whom It May Concern.” DON’T  begin with “I have been asked to…” The school team will not pay as much information to input that is perceived (however incorrectly) to be prompted, scripted, or purchased. Instead, DO address the letter to a person – the parent, the referring doctor, or even the child’s case manager at school – and relate the need for the letter to your treatment of the child.


3)  DO try to connect your diagnosis, recommendations, and other input to educational impact. Discuss what you know about the child and how those factors may impact the child in a school setting. This does not mean you have to observe the child at school.


4)  DON’T make statements discussing what is “best” or “ideal” for the child, what will allow the child to maximize progress or fulfill the child’s potential, or similar language. Schools are required to provide an appropriate education to the child, but case law has made clear that “appropriate” is a lower standard than what is best or what will maximize the child’s potential. Instead, try to focus on the child’s needs. What is required for the child to make progress? To be safe? To function appropriately in a school, social, or community environment?


5)  DO keep the family in the loop regarding communications you have had with the school, and what was discussed. When your letter is given to the school team, it is probable that the family will be asked to sign a release to exchange information with you. You may be contacted by telephone for input rather than by letter or e-mail. It is helpful for families to understand what was said, so that everyone is on the same page when discussing your input at a meeting.


6)  DO include specific recommendations, wherever possible, that explain to the school team how best to incorporate your input into the child’s educational program.


7)  DON’T expect your evaluation or diagnosis to be adopted by the school team. Schools are required to “consider” outside reports and evaluations, but they are also usually required to conduct their own evaluations, and will often consider your diagnosis to be “medical,” as opposed to “educational.” Your input to will carry greater weight if you draw connections between your conclusions and their educational impact on the child.


8)  DON’T forget, some input is usually better than no input at all! So, if you are unable to follow these suggestions, do not let that stop you from writing something, even if it is on a prescription pad. This will at least allow the family to provide some input from you to the school.