As a special needs parent, I was not prepared for a LOT of things. So many doctor appointments, battles with health insurance, the struggles of daily life both big and small, relatives who judged instead of learned…but I was prepared for dealing with my kids’ journeys in their school systems.
Children with disabilities are granted legal rights from the 504 plan (Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973) or with the IEP (Individualized Education Plan, mandated under the IDEA- Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). S
chools can implement these plans to support and accommodate students in a school setting. The journey from diagnosis (or even suspected diagnosis) to actual support in place can be rocky, and you may need some help and support yourself as a parent along the way.
I was prepared because I had friends who’d gone this road before me, and heard their successes and their horror stories. I read and researched, exhausting online resources and printing out SO. MUCH. STUFF.
I entered my first 504 meeting prepared for battle, and was instead met with patience, open mindedness, cooperation- I nearly cried at the meeting’s conclusion, and thanked everyone present for how helpful they’d been. Every meeting I’ve had since at this school for four years has been the same.
Then I went to my next 504 meeting, at a different kid’s different school, still prepared but feeling calmer- and met with resistance, excuses, defensiveness…I was amazed! Same school district, different people behind the table. And that makes all the difference, I’ve learned.
Yes, your child’s rights are the same at any school, because those are federal rights granted to students by IDEA and Section 504.
However, some schools have people on staff that are less than supportive and will try to downplay some factors to try to limit services. I have seen this personally, and because I was educated and prepared, I stood up for my kid and his needs were met. Many parents have no idea what to expect, and trust that the people on the other side of the table also have their kids’ best interests at heart. Many, many times, that is the case.
When it’s not, you need to remember these key points:
- Good grades don’t necessarily mean your child does not need services.
- Under Section 504, the school district must evaluate a student, at no cost to you, if the district believes a student has a disability and needs special education and/or related services because of that disability.
- You can also request that the school district evaluate a student. For example, you might request an evaluation if you suspect a student has a disability or they have already received a diagnosis outside of school
- Your school district must determine if an evaluation is necessary even if a student exhibits behavioral (and not academic) challenges.
- If the school district suspects a student has a disability, the district cannot deny or delay this disability evaluation in order to first provide the student with intervention strategies.
- Not every student with a disability needs the same set of services, or any services at all. School districts cannot simply provide the same aids and services to all students with certain disabilities. Each student’s needs may be different, and Section 504 requires school districts to provide for those individual educational needs.
The school district cannot limit aids or services that are free or low-cost, and cannot exclude needed aids and services just because of their expense.
- The school district must allow you to appeal district actions regarding the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of a student with a disability. This obligation is more commonly known as “due process.”
- The school district must tell you about this due process system, notify you of any evaluation or placement actions, allow you to examine the student’s records, provide you an impartial hearing, allow you to have a lawyer at that hearing, and provide you a review procedure.
My bottom line when talking to any parents who have a 504 or IEP meeting looming, or who have had a bad experience just requesting one, is to be prepared. Know your child’s federally granted educational rights, and your own as a parent. Bring someone with you who has “been there done that”, or a friend or relative who can remain calm and objective while you may be emotional.
Your school district likely has online resources and contact information for staff and representatives- use these! Reach out, find out what you can, talk to other parents. You’d be surprised what you can learn just from chatting with other weary parents who have already trudged through these meetings- successful ones, and nightmare ones.