Do you or a loved one have a child who struggles in school? Are you having difficulty advocating for their academic needs? Learn how to advocate for your child in school using a 504 plan or Individualized Educational Program (IEP) and what to do if the plan’s results are not satisfactory.
Understanding 504 Plans and IEPs
The main goal of a 504 plan is to provide students the same opportunities to learn and present knowledge at school as other students without disabilities, by giving them accommodations that do not require major changes to the school’s content or curriculum. This means that a 504 plan has fewer protections than the IEP (see below), and the process for developing it is easier.
A medical diagnosis is not required for a 504 plan, and it is not required to be in writing (but this is strongly recommended, since it helps hold schools accountable for following the plan). Additionally, a 504 does not normally involve Committee on Special Education team members, and parent participation is not required. However, having all four of the above doesn’t hurt if you or your loved one thinks they’re necessary to develop the best plan possible.
Additionally, 504 reviews happen periodically, and, after the plan is fully developed, it is in effect for the duration of the disability. Therefore, for children who have permanent health challenges like TS, a 504 plan would remain in place throughout their schooling.
Furthermore, to be eligible for a 504 plan, a child must have physical or cognitive challenges that strongly inhibit their ability to do major life activities, like learning, eating, and socializing in school.
Individualized Education Program (IEP)
The main goal of an IEP is to give students a free, appropriate, public education (FAPE) like other students without disabilities by altering the school’s curriculum for them, for example, by:
- modifying the expectations of what a student should learn; or
- modifying the benchmark requirements/timelines (e.g., when homework and tests are due) to provide the student an adequate opportunity to complete the work.
The process for developing an IEP is more formal than for a 504 plan. An IEP requires management by a team (called the Committee on Special Education, or CSE) that meets annually to discuss the student’s progress. IEPs must be written with meaningful, specific goals that:
- the applicant must meet,
- are measurable (in terms of the child’s progress),
- can change annually, and
- look towards the future of the student (think: after high school).
Using these Tools to Advocate for My Child in School
Advocating with a 504 Plan
- Advocate for a written 504 plan; that holds your school accountable for following it.
- If your school district disapproves your child for a 504 plan and you disagree, you can file a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights online or at one of their regional offices.
- Additionally, you could file for due process. This gives the school district a chance to change its mind before you file a complaint and request an impartial hearing. At this hearing, a judge will listen to your and the school district’s cases and render a decision based on the evidence. This verdict will determine what will happen with your child’s plan going forward.
- Ensure that your requested accommodations are reasonable. If they’re not, the school will not allow a 504 plan for your child.
Advocating with an IEP
- Hold the school accountable. Don’t just be present at the CSE meetings–actively contribute! Present your ideas of what the next goals should be, or if any other changes to the IEP should be made.
- When making new goals for your child, ask: How do you want your child to be successful after high school?
- Set goals that fit all of your child’s needs, not just in a few areas.
Most importantly, when developing 504 plans or IEPs, work closely with the school district, teachers, and your child. That way, it will be more likely that everyone will be satisfied with the progress your child is making in school.
What if I’m Not Satisfied with the Plan or My Child’s Progress?
Below are some steps you can take if you are dissatisfied:
- Give notice before you make a formal complaint and see if the issue resolves itself.
- If you have an IEP, you can review the CSE’s records; this can help you understand what is causing the supposed issue.
- You can initiate the grievance process and send a complaint to the school.
- You can do a review procedure with the Office of Civil Rights regional office, which will explain to the district any flaws in their accommodation policies and how they should fix them.
- If the above options do not work, you can file for an impartial hearing. There, you can explain to a judge why you don’t feel your child is getting the requested accommodations. The school district will also be present to explain its side of the story. The judge will then issue a verdict that outlines what should happen with your child’s accommodations going forward.
Want to learn about other types of accommodations for students with challenges associated with Turner Syndrome? Do you want to learn more tips to advocate for your child in school? Want to learn about specific accommodations that can be used for children with Turner Syndrome?
Check out the recording of our already-released webinar, Rights of Students with Turner Syndrome, with guest speakers Erica M. Fitzgerald and Stacy M. Sadove!
About the Presenters
Erica M. Fitzgerald and Stacy M. Sadove own Fitzgerald and Sadove FLLC, a law firm located in White Plains, New York.
The firm is focused on helping children with special needs be happy, healthy, and educated. They do this by helping special-needs families build estate, government benefit, educational, and guardianship plans. They also specialize in probate and estate administration and regular (not special needs-based) estate planning.
There are many ways to advocate for your child in school. Parents have a right to express their dissatisfaction with the way the school district is handling their child’s IEP or 504 plan, so don’t be afraid to speak up.
Written by Elizabeth (Liz) Rivera, Turner Syndrome Foundation (TSF) intern and blog post writer.