7 Important Things Every Parent Should Know About Your Child’s IEP/504 Plan! 

Written by Kim Brownell, LCSW, SDKF staff therapist and 504/IEP consultant. For an office, Telehealth, or in-home appointment with Kim or if you have any questions about your child or teen, please email her directly at [email protected]  

• IEP vs 504. What is the difference?
IEP plans fall under The ‘Individuals With Disabilities Education Act’ (IDEA). Section 504 covers students who don’t meet the criteria for special education but who still require some accommodations. Section 504 is actually a civil rights law, designed to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities in programs and activities that receive federal assistance from the Department of Education. A student is eligible for a 504 plan as long he/she currently has or has had a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits a major life activity. To qualify for an IEP, the disorder(s) must substantially affect a child’s ability to function in school.

Getting the right diagnosis is crucial to determining the most appropriate plan for your child. School districts honor their own internal assessments, but these can be flawed and lacking the subtle nuances in the presentation of Autism Spectrum Disorders or other important Mental Health Diagnoses that may be inhibiting your child’s academic performance. School psychologists are not trained to diagnose Medical Diagnoses of any kind including ASD or Mental Health Disorders. Due to this, missed diagnoses could result in a deficit in services and/or the wrong plan all together. Often, schools will allow outside testing to be added to IEP plans in tandem with the District testing to help determine the services needed. If not, there are other options for parents including requesting the District to re-test in specific areas.

• My child just got a Diagnosis. How do I get an IEP/504?
First step is to request an evaluation for your child. If you think that your child may qualify for special education services, you need only to request an evaluation. You can do this by contacting you child’s teacher, the school psychologist or the school principal. A group of qualified personnel will decide whether to evaluate or not and create a plan for the evaluation. The district has 60 days from the date of your giving permission to evaluate to complete the evaluation. Some states have administrative code that defines the length of time the team has to decide how and whether to evaluate, but not all do so. Any and all decisions regarding evaluation require the school district to inform and invite the parent to be a participant. There should be no decisions about whether or how to evaluate without the parent being a part of the team’s discussion.
We can help you write and format this letter as well as ensure it is received to the most appropriate staff member at your child’s school/district.

• What does the school evaluation entail?
A school-sponsored evaluation is conducted by a multidisciplinary team including the school psychologist and your child’s teacher. Typically, team members will review your child’s academic records, conduct a behavioral assessment, assess disorders that meet “educational criteria “(different than medical criteria) and observe him/her in the classroom.

Tip: Bring copies of your child’s report card, standardized test scores, a log of your school communications, as well as any/all assessment/evaluations performed by SDKidsFirst or other outside medical providers to the meeting.

• What happens next? Who attends?
If you and the school district agree that your child is eligible for services, a meeting will be scheduled within 30 days to develop the IEP or 504.

An IEP or a Section 504 meeting can be intimidating. It can run as long as three hours. Each school district handles things differently and requires different personnel to be present. Usually, your child’s teachers, school psychologist, and others directly affected by the IEP or Section 504 will attend. For an IEP, parents are required by law to be present; they are an important part of the team. For a Section 504, parents are encouraged to be involved, but it is not mandatory for them to attend. Your child, if old enough, is also encouraged to attend the meetings. We can help you set up goals, formulate pre-meeting notes, find out what services the school offers, determine which services are appropriate given your child’s test results and medical diagnoses, address any academic/social/emotional deficits that are not in the district’s assessment and, most importantly, how to advocate for services when the school does not offer them to your child.

The goal for an IEP or 504 meeting is for the parent and school to agree on accommodations and to prepare and sign the IEP or 504 Plan documents, although things don’t always work out that way! It is always your right to tell the school you want some time to look it over the documents before signing. We are happy to speak or meet with you and go through the IEP or 504 after your meeting prior to signing the document to ensure your child is getting all services you feel are necessary for him/her to thrive in the academic environment. Alternatively, we are also happy to accompany you to meetings to help advocate for services and provide you with support and knowledge on how to best achieve a collaborative outcome that satisfies your child’s needs.

• What will be included in the actual IEP document?
Both faculty and parents must be sure that the resulting IEP contains the specific information required by IDEA (special education law). Here’s a brief list of what IDEA requires:
 A statement of the child’s present levels of academic achievement and functional performance, including how the child’s disability affects his or her involvement and progress in the general education curriculum;
 A statement of measurable annual goals, including academic and functional goals;
 A description of how the child’s progress toward meeting the annual goals will be measured, and when periodic progress reports will be provided;
 A statement of the special education and related services and supplementary aids and services to be provided to the child, or on behalf of the child;
 A statement of the program modifications or supports for school personnel that will be provided to enable the child to advance appropriately toward attaining the annual goals; to be involved in and make progress in the general education curriculum and to participate in extracurricular and other nonacademic activities; and to be educated and participate with other children with disabilities and nondisabled children;
 An explanation of the extent, if any, to which the child will not participate with nondisabled children in the regular class and in extracurricular and nonacademic activities;
 A statement of any individual accommodations that are necessary to measure the academic achievement and functional performance of the child on State and districtwide assessments;
 (Note: If the IEP team determines that the child must take an alternate assessment instead of a particular regular State or districtwide assessment of student achievement, the IEP must include a statement of why the child cannot participate in the regular assessment and why the particular alternate assessment selected is appropriate for the child; and
 The projected date for the beginning of the services and modifications, and the anticipated frequency, location, and duration of those services and modifications.

• What are the categories of eligibility under an IEP?
Under IDEA, there are currently 13 categories under which a child can receive these services:
 Autism
 Deaf-blindness
 Deafness
 Emotional disturbance
 Hearing impairment
 Intellectual disability*
 Multiple disabilities
 Orthopedic impairment
 Other health impairment
 Specific learning disability
 Speech or language impairment
 Traumatic brain injury
 Visual impairment

• What Happens if my child is denied special accommodations or services?
You are entitled to appeal your case in a “due-process hearing”—a legal proceeding that often required legal representation for the family, testimony from independent experts, and a review of meeting transcripts, test scores, and other relevant documents. We are here to help you prepare for this hearing should you find yourself in a situation where you and your child’s school are at odds regarding the creation or implementation of an IEP or 504 document.