What is an IEP and 504 Plan?
These two "plans" are the very foundation upon which your child's education depends. Neither should be written as a generic tool where one plan "fits all". Each plan must be written unique for your child only. Anything less is worthless and sets your child for failure.
Individual Education Program (IEP)
In simple terms this is the plan that is written on an annual basis in compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This plan is written by a committee comprising of teachers, school and district administrators, parents/guardians and any persons who have knowledge of the child that may assist in the process. Each person has an EQUAL standing within the committee. The compiling of the plan is not done on a "voting" basis, but rather by consensus. If consensus cannot be reached, there are legal avenues that must be followed. No IEP can be written excluding the family or over their objections.
There are certain technical components to an IEP which will not be explored in depth here. Basically, the committee looks at the student's present levels of performance, reviews records, medical reports, evaluation data and any other relevant information available in which to decide upon an appropriate plan. The plan itself will consist of measurable goals and objectives, accommodations, modifications, etc. In other words, a viable plan for a student to achieve academically consistent with his/her medical condition. It levels the "playing field".
This federal program is funded and school districts receive these funds under the condition they comply with the rules and regulations set forth under IDEA.
The 504 Plan is also written by a committee comprising of the teachers, school administrators, family/guardians and invitees for the purpose of developing a program to assist student's who have a documented medical condition which adversely affects their educational progress.
The 504 plan is in compliance with the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Section 504 and is not funded to the school districts. However, compliance and accountability is overseen by the Office of Civil Rights.
The plan is much simpler, but provides equal availability for accommodations, services and modifications needed to make sure a student has all the appropriate advantages to be academically successful.
Which "Plan" is right for my child?
Good question! It is difficult to say which plan may be the most appropriate for your child without evaluating all the records and evaluation results. There are rules and regulations that will most of the time place your child, based upon evaluation results, into the appropriate area.
As a "rule of thumb", an IEP is primarily written for students requiring special education services, while the 504 plan will provide a less stringent program. But, there are many turns and twists to this.
What's the one thing I should know before I go into this meeting?
Answer: your child!
A 504 committee meeting or an Admissions and Release Committee Meeting (ARC) are intimidating places to be. First, there's the emotion of sitting in a confined room with people you generally don't know, all of which are speaking in a foreign language (IEP, LRE, ARC, etc.), making a plan for YOUR CHILD! If I've heard it once, I've heard it a hundred times from parents, "I walk in, know what I'm going to say and do and the next thing I know the meeting is over and I don't have a clue what happened!"
In these situations it is always better to have someone who is objective, knows the procedures, a good listener, knows what your child needs in school and can explain step by step to you afterwards. I do it everyday.
Developing an IEP or 504 plan is not easy and at times can be frustrating. Schools tend to want to write a plan conducive to the medical diagnosis. For example, a student has ADHD and is easily distracted. Therefore, the committee will want to check the box on the plan that says, "preferential seating". Sound great?...not to me! Take that plan to someone who wasn't in the committee room and ask them where they would seat your child. There may be several answers, not the least of which is up front by the teacher. Here's a clue...teacher's don't stand at the front of the classroom anymore!! How would your child best learn? Preferential seating could be at the back of the classroom, near another student who is a good influence, or as near the teacher as possible. The "plan" says your child will get "extended time". Extended time for what? tests, classroom work, homework? How long will my child get? Will the grading be different if there is extended time to turn work in or will there be a deduction for late work? Get the point? A plan should be very...repeat, very specific. When the IEP or 504 is completed, read it as if you were a teacher who had never met your child and was going to have to follow the plan to the letter. If it doesn't make sense or it's not specific...change it!
Remember, YOU are the only person who really knows your child and what his/her needs may be! Make sure your child receives accommodations that suit them, not the teacher! Lastly, remember that these plans are always changeable. What may work today, may not tomorrow. You can have as many meetings as you desire to revise a plan! Make sure the plan is not "generic". Make it as unique as is your child!
What can I ask for on the IEP or 504 Plan?
The better question is, "What does she/he need?"
A school district cannot tell you that it can't do something for your disabled child because of a lack of money. The federal government does not like this and can remove the funding from a district who fails to comply with the law.
The ARC or 504 Committee is the sole authority in determining the needs for your child. No one else can supercede the authority of this committee. No singular person, be that a superintendent, principal, Board of Education member, or anyone can alter, revise, change, add to or take away from a plan. It must be complied with.
If the committee decides it would be appropriate for a child to have a software reading program that doesn't exist in the district. The district MUST purchase it. The ARC MUST have a representative on the committee that is authorized to commit to district funds within the committee meeting. The IEP again should be very specific as to when the program will be in place, with trained personnel for the student.
The sky is the limit, within reason. Whatever it would take for your child to be successful in school conducive with his/her medical limitations is acceptable.
This page gives you only a glimmer of the complicated process of developing a "plan". Procedures dictate most of how this is all accomplished. Over the past decade plus, I have attended hundreds of these meetings throughout the state at the request of families and yes even school districts on occasion. I consider each and every one unique to a specific child and assist in developing an IEP that will best suit their needs.
The best advantage I have is that I know what can be offered to these kids, that are sometimes "overlooked" by the schools or not considered by the families. If you have a question or would like me to attend a meeting with you, please e-mail me or give me a call.