“If it isn’t documented, it didn’t happen.”

Have you ever heard someone, maybe a lawyer, make that statement?  A recent case from Mississippi illustrates how some courts do indeed look at it that way.  The lack of documentation supported the court’s ruling that the district failed in its Child Find duty. 

What Happened?  Screening during kindergarten showed that the student showed signs of dyslexia, but there was no follow up to that.  Nor did the district inform the parent of the screening results. The district claimed that the student was screened again in first grade, with a more positive result—no signs of dyslexia. However, there was no documentation of this.  None.

There were other factors that the court cited, but for today, let’s just focus on the failure of the district to make and maintain a record of the student’s success on a dyslexia screener.  The court completely disregarded the school’s contention that this ever happened.  There was no documentation.  Therefore, it didn’t happen. 

Consider the possibility that there are two explanations for what happened here: either it happened just like the court thinks it did—there was no screening done in first grade. Or maybe the district did screen the student in first grade, but failed to make note of it.  Either way, the result is the same. Thus the court truly takes the approach that “if you didn’t document it, I don’t believe you did it.”  The lesson is obvious.

It's M.W. v. Rankin County Public Schools District, decided by the federal court for the Southern District of Mississippi on January 5, 2022.  It’s published at 80 IDELR 136 (S.D. Miss. 2022).


Got a question or comment for the Dawg?  Let me hear from you at jwalsh@wabsa.com

Tomorrow: what does Goldilocks have to do with special education?