What You Need To Know To Start The Year Off Right
So, your child has an IEP and you are either brand new to the world of special education OR you have just changed districts. You have probably been advocating for your child for years, but a quick refresher in the basics of special education will help you to get this new school year off to a great start!
IEP vs 504 Plan
In special education, there are two types of plans: IEP or 504. An IEP, or individual education plan, is designed for individuals who have one or more of a specific set of disabilities or other health impairments, as outlined in IDEA 2004, that affects their academic progress in a significant way. A 504 plan is part of a broad civil rights law,the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, that protects all individuals with a disability or handicap. This chart gives you the basics:
|Type of Plan||Qualifications||Main goal||Length/renewal||Age limit|
|IEP||One of 13 disabilities||To provide an individual education plan and services||Annual meeting, full reevaluation every three years||21|
|504||Anyone with a disability||To modify the learning environment||Annually||None|
FAPE, LRE, ABA…What does it all mean?
And you thought the military was an alphabet soup. Welcome to special education!
FAPE: free appropriate public education. This guarantees that your child will receive an education in a public school setting that best meets his needs as outlined in the 504 Plan or IEP.
LRE: least restrictive environment. This guarantees that your child will be educated in an environment that best meets her needs. So, if your child is not working on a grade level that is on par with her chronological age, then she will be getting instruction targeted for her and will not be expected to “just tag along” as her same-age peers progress. This also protects your child and other children from bodily harm by making sure that students that are prone to violent outbursts are in a safe place (note: safe does NOT mean separate, safe means safe).
ABA: applied behavior analysis. This is a therapy primarily used for students on the Autism spectrum, but can be used to help other individuals learn new skills or drop inappropriate behaviors.
SLP: speech language pathologist. An SLP helps students with speech impairments. This could mean helping a child overcome a lisp or helping a child role play appropriate conversations techniques with peers. Both of these, and many other things, are included under the speech/language umbrella.
OT: occupational therapy. This is where students practice life skills or work on the skills that are precursors to these functions.
PT: physical therapy. This is for students who have difficulties with gross (walking) or fine (pinching two fingers together) motor skills, or for students who need physical stimulation/breaks in their day.
FERPA and FOIA
We all know FOIA is the Freedom of Information Act. This is one the journalists use frequently to obtain information that the government might not be too willing to share. But you can use it too. Since teachers in a public school are public employees, all or most of the data and documents they produce are eligible for a FOIA request. This means that you can request to see all documents generated by Mr.A, Mrs. H, and Ms. Z regarding a child with blue eyes and the school legally has to provide it to you. This can be helpful if you feel that your child is being discriminated against due to his disability. If there is a paper trail, a FOIA request get that for you.
FERPA is the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. This is like HIPAA, but for schools. FERPA gives you the following rights:
- right to review or access the academic files maintained by the school
- request that the school amend those files
- written consent prior to Personally Identifiable Information (PII) disclosure, with certain exceptions
- file a FERPA violation complaint
The access to your child’s files is the crucial one for military families who are PCSing. Legally, the schools is REQUIRED to give you copies of all academic records that the school has kept on file. After all, these records pertain to your child. Get them, make some copies, and hand carry them to your new school. Your old school will also send a copy of records, too. But having them in hand is your best bet.
Moving: What you need to know now
IEPs and 504 Plans are legal documents protected by federal laws and statutes. That means that they are required to be put in place in whatever district you are moving to. There are, however, some caveats. The law guarantees only comparable services, not exact services, in your new district. And it gives each school district the right to convene a new meeting, conduct new evaluations, and to remove your child from special education services if your new district’s evaluations show that an IEP/504 Plan is not warranted.
That’s it. It really is that simple: new district, same IEP until new meeting is convened to create new plan aligned with the current district’s forms and software.
Navigating the new system
Recently, there has been backlash from parents of students with learning differences against teachers. But your best ally in this journey are your general and special educators. They understand the district in which you are currently living, the state laws, and what services are available to your child right now.
Trust me, you want them on your side.
Coming in day one with 1,001 demands that need to happen RIGHT NOW will immediately set the wrong tone. Instead, a quick phone call or email several days before school to request a meeting regarding your child’s IEP/504 Plan. At the meeting, provide the teacher with a copy of the current IEP, explain what you have found to work, what other teachers have found to work, and why you are asking for these types of modifications, accommodations, and services to continue at the new school. This will set you up as an ally, and put the two of you in partnership.
By acknowledging the teacher as a consummate professional who knows her job, her students, and education laws, you are letting her know that she is valued and that you trust her to do what she thinks is best for your students.
Teachers also see a totally different side to many students than their parents see at home. At home, a student might be compliant and courteous; at school, that same child is rude and defiant. The opposite could also be true. Teachers work with the child that presents at school, and try to bring home and school into alignment to best meet the needs of each student.
When something’s not quite right
Ultimately, this is your child. You have legal and moral responsibility for this human being until 18 or 21 (depending on their disability and mental function). You need to stand up for what is right.
What to know:
- you can request a meeting at any time to discuss or amend the IEP/504 Plan
- if you suspect that your child has a disability, you can request an immediate evaluation
- if you disagree with the evaluation, you can request an independent evaluation. This may be at the school’s expense OR at your expense, should the school request a hearing
- the right to disagree with the IEP/504 Plan, and to request mediation or refuse to sign the IEP
As the school year begins, know that your child is in the hands of professional educators who genuinely care about your child and want what is best for him or her. In addition, know your rights. Don’t be afraid to (respectfully) fight for what you know is best for your child.
~ Meg Flanagan
Meg Flanagan holds an M.Ed in Special Education and a BA in Elementary Education. She has worked in private and public schools, as well as homeschool and tutoring. Meg is a Marine Corps wife and mother who enjoys working is education advocacy through her company Milkids Education Consulting.