Know the Law: 504 vs IEP

When I first began to hear the terms “504” or “Individual Education Plan” (IEP), I found it difficult to distinguish the differences between these two types of school services. These services are designed to help your child with learning disabilities. I quickly became lost during critical conversations regarding my child’s education, and rightly so, as they both service children with physical, mental, emotional, behavioral, learning, or attention issues.

If you hear these terms and are trying to understand the benefits they will provide your child, you are also, possibly, experiencing an onslaught of all types of new terminology and diagnoses from your doctor or specialists. This moment in time is going to feel overwhelming with all the new information the doctors are giving you, which is imperative, to your child’s development and growth.

What I have for you here is a bare bone, boilerplate, easy to follow, explanation regarding the similarities and differences a 504 or an IEP will provide and service.

How the 504 and IEPs are Similar:

  • Both act as a “map” for a child’s education career.
  • Both are free of charge to families seeking the services the school will provide (i.e., counselor, occupational therapist, physical therapist, or speech therapist.)
  • Both will consist of a team of people – I like to call it “Team Ninja” – the parents, teachers, administrators and other child development experts (i.e., counselor, occupational, physical, and speech therapist).
  • “Team Ninja” will collaboratively create a plan and monitor progress. The rules about who must be involved are stricter for the IEPs.
  • Services cannot be provided without Parents consent first.

How they Differ:

504 Plans

  • Accommodations to make appropriate changes to classroom environment:
    1. “Sensory fidget” items – such as stress ball, Velcro to the desk, selection of sensory seating options, weighted items, etc.
    2. Be allowed to take a test orally vs. written.
    3. Supplementary aids to help support in the general classroom (i.e., audiobooks, or copy of a teacher’s notes the class would be required to copy)
  • Cover children with any learning disability, such as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD, ADHD), Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, Asthma, etc.
  • The 504 does not require a formal evaluation by an outside expert. Your school district will not cover the cost should you choose to have an evaluation to determine under what disability your child will qualify for a 504.
  • States will not receive any additional funds for implementing a 504 plan. However, the government can withhold funds if the state is not in compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Funding given from Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) may not be used to serve students with a 504 plan.
  • A 504 is not a formal document. “Team Ninja” will meet to discuss strategies and assess results and make adjustments accordingly. Meeting minutes may or may not be taken and signed at the end of a 504 meeting.
  • Schools do not have to give written notification to the parents should any “significant” change happen to the 504 placement. However, most schools do so anyway.
  • The rule will vary by state, but in general, a 504 plan will be reviewed at the beginning of each school year, and reevaluations are done every three years or as needed.
  • 504 process for dispute-resolution are as follows (for more detailed information visit https://www.understood.org)
    1. Mediation
    2. Alternative dispute resolution
    3. Impartial hearing
    4. Complaint to the Office of Civil Rights (ORC)
    5. Lawsuit

Individual Education Plan (IEP):

  • An IEP is an INDIVIDUAL map for each child. (curriculum accommodations)
  • Requires a formal evaluation to determine if and what services your child will receive.
    1. Parents can request the school to provide the series of evaluations known as an independent educational evaluation (IEE) given by an outside expert. The school district does not have to agree.
    2. Parents may elect to pay for a private evaluation from an expert.
  • To qualify for an IEP, you must have 1 or more of 13 specific disabilities such as Autism Spectrum Disorder; Blindness; Deafness; Hearing Impairment, etc. (to view all 13 qualifying disabilities visit www.specialeducationguide.com)
  • There are strict legal requirements about who must participate on the IEP team – “Team Ninja.”
    1. Parents
    2. Teacher
    3. At least one special education teacher
    4. Schools psychologist or another individual who can interpret the evaluation results
    5. A district representative over the special education services
  • The State will receive additional funding for a child that is eligible for an IEP.
  • IEP’s are enforced by your state’s education department – for example, in Arizona, that is the Department of Education
  • The IEP is a very structured enforceable document that will contain a current academic assessment, track annual education goals and the length of time to achieve said goals
  • Should the school wish to make any changes to a child’s IEP or services that are provided they must inform parents in writing, known as a “ Prior Written Notice.”
  • List any accommodations—including class environment—along with who will provide the support and services your child will need.
  • The IEP Team – “Team Ninja” – will review the IEP at least once a year. Depending on the goals made for the IEP your Team may meet more often. All students with an IEP must be re-evaluated every three years. It will then be determined if and what services will continue to be provided.
  • Explains all modifications (taught curriculum) and accommodations (classroom environment) and how your child will participate in standardized tests.
  • Your IEP will state a plan that will show how your child will be included in school activities as well as in the classroom.
  • The IEP’s dispute-resolution consists of the following (for more detailed information visit https://www.understood.org)
    1. Mediation
    2. Due process complaint
    3. Resolution session
    4. Civil Lawsuit
    5. State complaint
    6. Lawsuit

Knowing which laws do what was a huge part of helping me understand the difference between a 504 and an IEP. I found this chart super handy when I started on our journey. If you are still confused about your eligibility and rights, I strongly encourage you to contact your state’s Parent Information & Resource Center. Also, try meeting with your child’s teacher. They are a great resource as well as an additional set of eyes to help spot the struggles your child may be facing. Another excellent advocate to have on your side is your child’s primary care physician. They can give you referrals to a specialist to obtain any evaluations you feel your child may need.

Resources used to write this article can be found at the following sites:

http://www.idea.ed.gov

http://www.raisingspecialkids.org

http://www.azdisabilitylaw.org

http://www.understood.org

https://www.greatschools.org/gk/articles/section-504-2/

https://ldaamerica.org/types-of-learning-disabilities/

 

   

 

Do’s and Don’t’s: IEP and 504 Meeting Preprations

With my first 504  and Individual Education Plan (IEP) qualification meeting approaching, I did what any overly prepared, easily intimidated person would do, scour the internet for tips – after all, knowledge is power. I also braved a seminar our school district held to help parents understand the 504/IEP laws, it, unfortunately,  turned from an informational meeting to a platform for other parents to air grievances. Super frustrating for those of us who attended with the hope of learning something.

I wanted to share a few amazing DO’s and DO NOT’s I have found from research and having attended my own 504/IEP qualification meeting.

DO

  • Put together binders with all current information you have to date on your child. (Should your meeting be regarding possibly seeking evaluations I recommend having medical information such as birth weight, length, and term of pregnancy as well as the notes your Pediatrician has on their monthly, bi-monthly, and yearly growth milestones. You can request a copy of this information from your doctor’s office)

Make a MASTER copy for you, one for the teacher, principal, nurse, special education director, and school counselor.  Include a picture of your child doing an everyday task – it helps to put a face to the name plus it “humanizes” your child.

Every binder should have the same sections and information, i.e.,  Psych Evaluation; Occupational Therapy Evaluation; Physical Therapy Evaluation; Doctor Reports; Teacher Progress Report; Teacher Correspondence; Multidisciplinary Evaluation Team (MET) – for the official signed meeting notes); and Notes.

  • Have a firm understanding of the rights and resources that are available for your child.
  • Know the difference between a 504 vs. IEP and which you feel would best support your child.
  • Arrive at your meetings with well thought out ideas or strategies to help support your child and teachers.
  • Prepare to compromise and have realistic expectations of what can be accomplished during school hours vs. at home.
  • Dress appropriately for the meeting. (i.e., slacks and semi-casual top vs. workout clothes) You would think this is obvious, but many parents show up like they are going to the gym or have just rolled out of bed. Your 504 or IEP is an important meeting dress accordingly.

All of these things will help you to be prepared and ready to advocate with confidence!

DO NOT

  • Expect the others at your meeting to have all the answers.
  • Argue about unimportant details. As much as we want the 504/IEP to be the magic wand remember that nothing will be 100% perfect.
  • Expect the school to put in all the effort. It is a two-way street, and a lot of work and time will need to be given by you the parent.
  • Be argumentative. It is easy enough to do, trust me, I wanted to bang a few heads together a couple of times. Keep calm and remember everyone in the room is vying for a spot on “TEAM NINJA,” and working to find the best way to help your little Ninja to be successful.

I know that this time can be super stressful when all you want to do is help your child be as happy and successful as they can be. I promise that is everyone’s goal.

Keep in mind that the qualification meeting for a 504 or IEP is the first step in the process of continued meetings and goal setting. You will want to have lines of communication open between everyone.

I remember the first 504/IEP meeting I felt like I was sitting in front of a firing squad pleading our case. The hoops you have to jump through to obtain a 504 or IEP are intense. Once the meeting concluded, I felt utterly drained. It is tedious, emotional, and demanding. The best news is, you will be one step closer to creating a successful school career for your Ninja. Now that is worth celebrating. Eat some chocolate; you’ve earned it!  

Finding Joy in our Sensory Journey

The other morning I had brunch with a new friend whose child, like mine, has some Sensory Processing Disorders. We were chatting about the school our kids attended and I shared with her some of the struggles we had with my son’s second-grade teacher and the school’s principal. It was the time in our process of attempting to “diagnose” a cause for the behavioral struggles, and find ways to support him. He would get up and leave the classroom without permission, avoid bring home his work folder, and obstinately refuse to do certain class assignments. He would essentially just shut down.

These behaviors resulted in trips to see the principal and losing recess privileges. There were many pre-conclusions about what was wrong with my son. Most of those circled around behavior correction, compliance, and comparing him to a “normal student” with an expectation that he should be able to behave more like his peers.

It wasn’t pleasant and left a very bitter taste. I remember feeling that he was misunderstood, and I felt sad and alone in the fight for my child’s success. Unkind words were said by both teacher and administrator. I experienced a huge low.

As I relived some of those moments with my friend, I was shocked to realize how much my son and I have grown and overcome together the past couple years. While the sting of days past is still felt, I also have peace for them as well.

The struggle to understand, sleepless nights, frustrated tears, exhausting worry, anger and my resentment at unkindness, have shaped a hope I wouldn’t have imagined possible. Oh, believe me, I can for sure muster up some of those old friendly feelings, but I also feel so much accomplishment and freedom from it. Maybe I’ve learned to let go a bit, to shrug off the annoyed looks or words; we get them often from people who just don’t know or care to be patient. But for me, I have chosen to seek joy in our successes.

We have difficult days ahead, but more and more often they are 100% filled with fantastic bliss. That feeling is priceless, I hope you can build on that, and cherish it. When those bad days come-because they will most certainly come-take a moment to remember the victories you and your child have won. That’s what will make all the difference in how you face new challenges. 

photo credit: © Terri Moore 2017

What is Sensory Processing?

The human body is amazing! From the moment we are born it automatically kicks into a full functioning multifaceted working machine. It’s astounding how everything comes together and just works! Well for some of us anyway. 

Sensory Processing:

Sensory processing refers to the way the nervous system receives messages from the senses and turns them into appropriate motor and behavioral responses.

Now that we have a textbook definition of what sensory processing is let’s play a game. Question: How many senses make up our sensory processing?

Did you think 5?

I’m sorry but the answer is 7! 7! and if just one isn’t working correctly…well if you’re exploring what Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) means, then you’ll start to have an idea of the impact.

Internal and external environment is processed through the following

  1. Vision (ocular)*
  2. Hearing (auditory)*
  3. Taste (gustatory)
  4. Smell (olfactory)
  5. Touch (tactile)*
  6. Movement (Vestibular)*
  7. Joint and Muscle Awareness (Proprioceptive)*

The stars next to each of the senses are areas in which my child struggles; some areas more than others, but they all interrelate.

SPD can affect people in only one area or-like my child-in multiple. While no child will experience SPD the same as another, they are put into two groups, and in some cases, they can overlap. There are the Sensory Seekers and Sensory Avoiders. For example, my child does not like loud, noisy environments-avoider, where on the other hand he seeks deep pressure-like hugs or tightly fitted clothing-seeker.

What causes SPD?

The STAR Institue for Sensory Processing Disorder and their collaborators have been studying this very question. And so far their research suggests that it is inherited. So all you parents out there asking “was it something I did?” the answer is no. It is a DNA thing. Other factors are complications with a pregnancy or birth, as well as some environmental factors. (for more information check out spdstar.org it’s fantastic!)

Bottom line

It is unfortunate that children-like my own, suffering from SPD, are often times misdiagnosed – and therefore often inappropriately medicated- for ADHD. SPD can look like Autism Spectrum Disorders or even ADHD. I was told by two teachers that my child could have ASD or ADHD (good thing they aren’t doctors.) Remember, YOU- the parent! not Grandma, or Auntie or even the teacher knows your child better. If you feel like your child could have any kind of sensory delay speak with your child’s doctor. Be prepared to hear that it is “normal.” My pediatrician is an expert when it comes to diagnosing ear infections, not so much when it came to SPD-he totally missed it. We actually avoided our doctor altogether and took our child to get full evaluations from a psychologist. Whatever you decide to do, know that you are the only one that can/will advocate for you child.

photo credit: Johannes Plenio