Today’s guest blog by Pam Labellarte, Special Education Advocate, explains how to navigate accommodations plans when your child receives a diagnosis.
Before we can even address the question of whether a 504 plan or an IEP is the best vehicle for your child, we need to unravel the process required to get your child identified as a student with educational needs that cannot be addressed through the general curriculum, without support of additional accommodations and/or services.
Your Child Has a Diagnosis, Now What?
You get the news from your child’s teacher, your pediatrician or after your child has been evaluated by a neuropsychologist…your child has a disability. Maybe it’s a Learning Disability, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), or any one of several other disabilities that is limiting your child’s academic progress. Your first inclination is to ensure your child is provided whatever supports are necessary to maximize his potential. But, you are at a loss as where to begin. If your child’s teacher has not taken any further action, the first step is to connect with your school district’s Special Education Director/Coordinator. The initial request for consideration for services should be a letter hand delivered, sent certified mail or an email with a letter attached.
The “Special Education Maze”:
You are now about to enter what is often called “the Special Education Maze”. Understand, Special Education is NOT a PLACE. Special education services are driven by the needs of the individual child. Therefore they are delivered in a variety of places, sometimes within the classroom and other times outside the classroom in a smaller setting. It is critical that the initial and any future contact with the school district be documented in writing. This means documenting any important verbal conversations that occur between you and the school district staff, with an email confirming the conversation. By law, once a school district receives written requests from a parent regarding special education, they are required to respond within specific timelines, hence, the importance of written documentation.
Important Steps to Take to Receive Special Education Services:
Upon receipt of your written request for consideration of special education services for your child, the school district is required to respond to you in writing within 14 school days whether they believe your child should be evaluated. If they agree, a meeting will be scheduled to identify specific areas to be evaluated. Often referred to as the “Domain Meeting”, it the place where the school team and the parents review the major areas or “domains” to be evaluated, such as achievement, cognitive, communication, etc. The Domain Meeting is one of the most important meetings you in which you will ever participate, because you and the school team will determine which areas need to be evaluated and how (formal evaluations, informal assessments, observation, review of records, etc.). In order for the process to continue you have to provide “informed consent”, agreeing to allow the specific evaluations/observations to be conducted only after you understand what information they will provide. If a critical area is not addressed it may negatively impact the services provided to your child.
Developing the IEP:
Once you have provided consent, the school staff has 60 school days to complete all evaluations and observations, publish their findings and conduct an eligibility meeting. Most parents do not realize they can request that the draft reports be provided in advance of the eligibility meeting (three school days prior is sufficient time). If you wait to review the reports at the meeting, how can you hear the information (much of it foreign to you), digest what you have heard and then make “informed” decisions about your child’s programming? Once your child is found eligible the school district has 30 days to develop and implement an Individual Education Plan (IEP).
IEP or 504 Plan?
What if your school district has responded to your request in writing that they do not believe that your child has a disability requiring special education services provided under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). But, they are willing to consider developing a 504 Plan to provide accommodations to your child. Would a 504 Plan be appropriate? How do they differ? Which would provide your child the most appropriate support?
Click here for a Section 504 and IDEA Comparison Chart (obtained from the National Center for Learning Disabilities) that provides details regarding the differences in the two laws. Don’t make any quick decisions until you understand the basic difference between the two educational programs.