IEP or 504 Plan?

Once your student qualifies for special education services in their public school, they gain a written plan that follows them through their schooling. This document is either an IEP, which stands for an Individualized Education Plan, or a 504 Plan. Keep reading to learn about each of these wonderful ways to support your child in school.

IEP Explained

AN IEP is a blueprint that will define your child’s experience at school. As stated in the previous article, if your child has any of the 13 disabilities listed in the IDEA, they can qualify to receive this support. The process starts with an evaluation that summarizes the students strengths and challenges. Then the team, including parents, create an individualized plan of supports, services, and unique accommodations to help the student learn best. These documents are extensive and include detailed, measurable learning goals, specially designed instructions, the who and when of special services, and many other details about your student’s day at school. Remember once your child qualifies for special education services, the federal law under IDEA protects them and you as their parents. You always have the right to come together as a team to discuss any concerns or changes for your child. Sometimes when your student has an IEP, they may spend their entire day in a separate specialized classroom, such as Lifeskills, Autism support, or an Emotional Support Classroom. More often, they get pulled out of the regular education classroom for certain subjects where they need more individualized attention. Most frequently, kids with IEPs are learning right beside their peers in the regular education classroom. The IEP plan must be reviewed on an annual basis. And each student gets reevaluated every 3 years to determine if they still qualify for an IEP.

Stay in School Until 21

Another benefit that is worth noting is that an IEP allows the student to attend school until the age of 21. This can be wonderful for young adults who need to keep learning and practicing certain life skills, who would benefit from  working alongside a job coach, and who need the extra support. If your student is in elementary school, this may sound daunting. However the extra time in a structured, safe, known school environment affords quite a number of growth and vocational opportunities to your learner.

So What Is A 504 Plan?

The difference is in the definition of disability. If your child has any disability that is interfering with learning in school then they qualify for a 504 Plan. The law, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, says that the disability must be considerably limiting one or more basic life activities. These can include learning, reading, communicating, and thinking. This broader definition explains why some students do not qualify for an IEP but do qualify for a 504 plan. Your child’s 504 plan is a blueprint that will outline the accommodations, supports, and services added or changed to the learning environment to enable your student to learn in the general education classroom. But unlike an IEP plan, this one does not have to be a written document, is not as specific, detailed, and extensive to all settings. Your student does not get pulled out of the regular classroom with a 504 plan. These plans are typically reviewed annually. The 504 plan was designed to protect students with disabilities so remember your student has many rights under such plan.

Collaborative Approach

As a parent, the most important part of the IEP or 504 process it to work together with your child’s team. Collaborate. You know your child best and must be part of the process. Cooperate. Participate. Join together to create the best situation for your lovely child. This is the hardest part but the most crucial one. Sitting in a room listening to people talk about your child’s delays and deficits and what they stink at is grueling. It hurts! Not every one will be sensitive to how hard it is to hear the results of your child’s evaluation or their most recent behavioral incident. Often teachers see a different side of your student than you and that can be alienating too. Frankly it is painful to come together and pinpoint all the areas where your child needs help. Easier to look away and make pretend your child is just fine. These issues are all the more complex with adopted children. For you see, most of your student’s learning problems or disabilities are a direct result of the experience of living with their birth mother and/or father. (This includes the prenatal experience which can include drugs and/or alcohol.) It’s a doozy. BUT this team of teachers and staff really do want to help your child succeed in school. You will not always agree on everything, but you must give them the benefit of the doubt. Let them help your child. Do not get in the way of this process. Check your baggage at the IEP meeting door.

Bring A Friend

It’s always OK and encouraged to bring someone with you to the IEP: your partner, a friend, your sister, an advocate, your Post Perm worker. Remember IEPs do not have to be a battle. Come together with your teamwork hat on and help your child to thrive!

**Read this wonderful piece about common myths about IEPs**

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