Saturday, October 22, 2011

504 Plans and IEPs

This is the last of three posts about communicating with school professionals when your child is not successful in school. If your child needs extra assistance, s/he may qualify for a 504 Plan (general education) or an Individualized Education Plan (special education). I admit this post is rather dry, but I want to make the information available to those who need it.

To appease you, one of my favorite pictures, taken 10/19/10.

504 Plans

Question: What is a 504 plan?

Answer: The "504" in "504 plan" refers to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1973, which specifies that no one with a disability can be excluded from participating in federally funded programs or activities, including elementary, secondary or postsecondary schooling. "Disability" in this context refers to a "physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities." This can include physical impairments; illnesses or injuries; communicable diseases; chronic conditions like asthma, allergies and diabetes; and learning problems. A 504 plan is a legal document that spells out the modifications and accommodations that will be needed for these students to have an opportunity perform at the same level as their peers, and might include such things as wheelchair ramps, blood sugar monitoring, an extra set of textbooks, a peanut-free lunch environment, home instruction, or a tape recorder or keyboard for taking notes.

Question: How is a student considered for a 504 plan?

Answer: A student with a physical or emotional disability, who is recovering from a chemical dependency, or who has an impairment (i.e. Attention Deficit Disorder) that restricts one or more major life activities, such as caring for one's self, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, working, and learning. 

Question: Who is involved in placing a student on a 504 plan and what is the process?

Answer: The student, parent/legal guardian, teachers, principals, Pupil Services administrators, support staff (i.e. nurse, counselor, psychologist, language/speech pathologist) as well as the student's physician or therapist may be involved in the placement process including the 504 meeting. The process is generally as follows:
  1. Student is referred by teacher, support staff, parent/legal guardian, physician, or
    therapist. On occasion, a student may initiate a self-referral.
  2. A 504 plan meeting is held.
  3. A plan for the student is developed.
  4. A review date is set. 
Question: When a teacher signs off on a 504 plan, what are his/her responsibilities?

Answer: The teacher is legally responsible to implement your designated accommodation/ strategies on the plan. He or she is advised to maintain regular and consistent documentation to display attempts to implement the plan. For example: The teacher may keep a file of student work, write special notations in a grade book, or maintain personal notes. Keep copies of any adjusted tests, assignments, behavior plans, and all notes to and from parents/legal guardians. 

Special Education Evaluations

Initial Evaluations
A formal special education evaluation can be initiated by school professionals or parent request. Upon receiving a referral, districts have the responsibility to promptly obtain informed consent from parents for testing. Once consent is received, districts have 60 calendar days to complete an evaluation. Depending on the nature of the concern, the following evaluations may be completed:

Possible Evaluation
Administered By
School Psychologist
Special Education Teacher / Reading Specialist
Speech/Language Therapist
Occupational Therapy
Occupational Therapist
Physical Therapy
Physical Therapist
Social History
School Psychologist / Nurse / Social Worker
Medical History
Completed by Family Physician

Following the evaluations, school professionals meet to share results and discuss possible ideas and strategies to serve the student. If special education services are considered appropriate, the process moves to district-level CSE. If they are not recommended, school professionals meet with parents, discuss results, and ask parents to sign a withdrawal form. In order to be eligible, a student must meet one of the fourteen IDEA categories. Once eligibility is declared, an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) will be developed. Like a 504 Plan, this is a legal document.

            Students receiving special education services must be reevaluated at least every three years. At this time, parents will be asked to provide updated medical information and share any information of the past three years that is relevant to their child’s education (i.e. academic progress, self-esteem, significant life changes). Academic testing is updated, although it is generally not as comprehensive as assessments given at an initial evaluation. Your child’s special education teacher may choose to test only those areas in which your child is struggling. Other school professionals, such as psychologists or speech/language therapists, may not administer any new assessments but simply review files to write a reaction statement. Results from reevaluations should be used to guide the student’s program.

 *Psychological evaluations may include measures of cognitive abilities (IQ), social-emotional functioning, fine motor abilities, and school behavior.


  1. I had to call the American's with Disabilities act people and file a lawsuit against the high school here to get them to even consider my kid's disabilities-- we paid for evaluations to find out what we could do to help him learn, but the school didn't want to evaluate him and wouldn't take the independent evaluation (even though done by a specialist THEY sometimes hired!!) This got the IEP-- but they went out of their way to avoid implementing it and did nothing to help my kid take advantage of it. Note even when I brought the counselor from a past school, one of the few people who actually tried to help my kid, and her conclusion was he would never get help from that school because the administration and counselors had decided NOT to help but to have meetings to protect themselves from lawsuits in the future. It was a huge head ache and when he turned 18 he simply refused to go back-- and got his GED in one shot then started college.

  2. What a horrible situation for your family. It is a testament both to you and your son that he successfully completed his GED and went on to college. What a terrible shame that those charged with educating your son chose to actively deny him what he needed. Your comments over the past few days speak to the importance of making children, not convenience or budget, the top priority. Thank you for sharing your story.