Guest blogger Christy Calbos, Esq of Calbos Law
1. Just Starting the Process? Know the difference between a 504 Plan and Special Education IEP.
For special education eligibility, a student must be diagnosed with a disability that impairs their ability to make effective progress and thus requires specialized instruction, accommodations, and/or related services in order to make such progress. Unlike a special education student, a student with a 504 Plan is able to make effective progress in school without the need for specialized instruction and/or related services and only needs accommodations in order to gain equal access to the instruction and/or the facility. A 504 Plan will provide accommodations that allow a student with an impaired major life activity to have the same level of access to instruction, school activities, and the school building as students without disabilities.
2. Know What It Means for Your Child to Be Eligible.
Just because your child struggles and/or receives a diagnosis of a disability does not mean your child will automatically have educational eligibility for a 504 Plan or IEP. Parents should study the state’s eligibility criteria. At the meeting, review what the team is considering as it makes the decision about eligibility (evaluations, observations, data), and if the school tells you that your child is “not eligible,” ask for: (a) specific data that supports the team\’s decision, (b) data to be taken for 90 days and forwarded to you on “problem areas,” and (c) a meeting to be held in 100 days to reconsider eligibility. Also, consult with an advocate or attorney about the ineligibility decision and strategy for moving forward.
3. Share Information With the Team About How You See Your Child Learning At Home.
Do not assume that the team understands what you see at home or the ways that your child’s disability impedes learning. Make yourself an expert on the impact of your child’s disability. If you have not sought independent evaluations, now is the time to do so, and immerse yourself in learning about how your child’s disability impacts him or her. At the meeting, share specific details and examples, even videos, of what you see at home.
4. Consult With Therapists, Psychologists, Behavior Specialists and/or a Special Education Advocate or Attorney to Determine Appropriate Accommodations and IEP Goals.
504 accommodations level the playing field for your child but do not provide specialized instruction. IEP goals address your child’s deficits by providing specialized instruction and services to target those needs. Your child may have many areas that need to be addressed, and sometimes schools may not want to create an accommodation or goal for every one of those needs. You may hear, “We already cover that in XYZ subject” or “We don’t need an accommodation or goal for that need, because we will work on that as part of the class structure.” Please ask if your child is going to get the level of support that he/she needs. It is also a good idea for parents to go to 504 meetings with ideas of accommodations and go to IEP meetings with ideas of appropriate goals that address your child’s needs. Please ask for a draft 504 Plan or IEP in advance of the meeting, and then consult with experts to get input on what would be appropriate for your child.
5. Four Must-Haves for 504 or IEP Meetings.
- Create a list of “must-discuss” items (also known as “Parent Concerns”) and email this to the special education teacher/case manager and other teachers and providers, at least 48 hours before the meeting. Ask the team to copy/paste your Parent Concerns into the draft of the IEP. Take copies and distribute again at the actual meeting.
- Take your list of proposed 504 accommodations or IEP accommodations/goals and give team members copies of those, too.
- Audio record the meeting (it is a good idea to give the school system advance notice that you will be recording). In 504 and IEP meetings, there are many topics and meetings move quickly. Sometimes important decisions may not be accurately documented in the 504 Plan or IEP, and an audio recording makes it easy for you to listen to any portions of the discussion after the meeting has ended in case you need to resolve any flaws in the 504 Plan or IEP.
- Take your advocate to a 504 meeting or IEP meeting when you do not fully understand the process, your child’s needs, or need extra support in advocating for services. Meetings are often fast-paced. At most IEP meetings, you will have two tracks going at the same time:
- Procedure: the agenda (order and way of discussing the topics), and
- Substance: content of the IEP, starting with Present Levels of Functioning, Strengths, Weaknesses, Goals, Accommodations, Related Services, and Placement.
Special education attorney Christy Calbos received her law degree from the University of Georgia in 1997. In 2003, Christy began working with school districts. In 2011, she decided to open her own law firm so that she could help disabled students. As a former school attorney, she has extensive knowledge of school system special education and politics, which helps her clients with their cases as they successfully navigate special education.
If you are concerned about your child’s special education needs, please feel free to visit her website at www.calboslaw.com and schedule a complimentary consultation.