Archive | June, 2016

IEP Process – The Basics

An IEP is the individual education process that provides services, accommodations and/or modifications to students with disabilities.  The IEP is the end result of a long process that starts by identifying students with needs and through the negotiation process of determining what services that student should receive.


  • The IEP process is a team effort that first determines if a student is eligible for special education, and then works to provide an appropriate education plan for that specific child.

  • The school’s job is to determine if a disability impacts the student’s learning.

  • As a parent, you are an equal participant in the IEP team, and should act accordingly.



The first step in determining what the child’s IEP looks like is actually determining if the child is ELIGIBLE for special education services.  Under IDEA, a student must fall into at least one of 13 pre-determined categories of disability.

Your local public school is tasked with evaluating children over the age of 3 to determine if they have one of the 13 disabilities.  If you think your child should have special education services (which include OT, PT as well as speech therapies), then all you need to do is REQUEST AN EVALUATION from your teacher or administrator.  A team will then be assembled to determine IF an evaluation should be performed, and which tests are most appropriate.  As a parent, you are an EQUAL participant in this team.


Once it has been determined that your student should undergo testing, the school has 60 days from the date of approval to perform the evaluation and meet with the IEP team.  Note, the school must not test the student until explicit approval from the parent is given with regards to the specific tests that will be performed.

The goal of the comprehensive testing is to determine whether or not the child qualified for one of the 13 protected disabilities under IDEA.

It is interesting to note that the qualification for a “specific learning disability” is determined by a significant discrepancy between achievement and ability (as measured by the difference between IQ and academic test results).  This determination is not only subjective, but also difficult to identify in children below 3rd grade.

Also of note is that the school is not able to diagnose disabilities like autism, ADHD and most other physical delays or disabilities.  The school’s job is to determine if a disability impairs learning.  In cases where a diagnosis is available, it is always a good idea to include a medical professional or the current therapist in the IEP evaluation process.  As an advocate, I advise my clients to bring in private testing results whenever possible.

3. IEP Meeting

After your student has been tested, the school will schedule a meeting to review the results of the testing and to determine eligibility under the law.   If your child has a medical diagnosis, it’s a good idea to bring in a report from the medical practitioner, or have the doctor there.

Team members that are required to be there include a district administrator, the special education teacher, the school psychologist (or someone else to interpret the data), the general education teacher.  The parents are encouraged to attend and, if appropriate, the student is encouraged to attend as well (although the student is required to attend after the age of 16).  Finally, any adaptive service providers – including OT, PT and/or speech will most likely be there if the IEP deals with these functional areas.

In all cases, we recommend bringing someone (other than a parent) in the room to help hear what is said, to take notes, and to advocate for the student and the parents.  This person can be a grandparent, an aunt, a friend or a hired advocate.  But you want someone who is not emotionally tied to the outcome of the IEP document.


4. IEP Plan Development

During the IEP meeting, if your student has been deemed eligible for special education, the team will then begin working on the actual IEP plan.  The school will propose some services, accommodations and modifications that they think will help your student better succeed.  Remember, that you are a vital part of the team and you are really the best advocate for your student.

The IEP is a legal document that documents what services the district will be providing the student and the goals of those services will be addressing.

In later articles we will explain what elements are required in the IEP and how to ensure that the IEP is followed.

504 Plan vs. IEP

Here’s what you need to know about the differences between an IEP and a 504 Plan.  Keep in mind, both can provide accommodations or modifications to a student.  But an IEP is only used for students with one of 13 disabilities, and 504 plans are used for kids who are not protected under the American Disabilities Act.


             IEP 504 PLAN
Basic Description A blueprint or plan for a child’s special education experience at school.  A blueprint or plan for how a child will have access to learning at school.
What it Does Provides individualized special education and related services to meet the unique needs of the child.These services are provided at no cost to parents.


Provides services and changes to the learning environment to meet the needs of the child as adequately as other students.As with IEPs, a 504 plan is provided at no cost to parents.
What Law Applies The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)This is a federal special education law for children with disabilities.


Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973This is a federal civil rights law to stop discrimination against people with disabilities.
Who is Eligible To get an IEP, there are two requirements:

  1. A child has one or more of the 13 specific disabilities listed in IDEA. Learning and attention issues may qualify.
  2. The disability must affect the child’s educational performance and/or ability to learn and benefit from the general education curriculum.
To get a 504 plan, there are two requirements:

  1. A child has any disability, which can include many learning or attention issues.
  2. The disability must interfere with the child’s ability to learn in a general education classroom.

Section 504 has a broader definition of a disability than IDEA. That’s why a child who doesn’t qualify for an IEP might still be able to get a 504 plan.




             IEP 504 PLAN
Independent Educational Evaluation Parents can ask the school district to pay for an independent educational evaluation (IEE) by an outside expert.  The district doesn’t have to agree.Parents can always pay for an outside evaluation themselves, but the district may not give it much weight.


Doesn’t allow parents to ask for an IEE. As with an IEP evaluation, parents can always pay for an outside evaluation themselves.
Who Creates the Program / Plan There are strict legal requirements about who participates. An IEP is created by an IEP team that must include:

  • The child’s parent
  • At least one of the child’s general education teachers
  • At least one special education teacher
  • School psychologist or other specialist who can interpret evaluation results
  • A district representative with authority over special education services

With a few exceptions, the entire team must be present for IEP meetings.


The rules about who’s on the 504 team are less specific than they are for an IEP.A 504 plan is created by a team of people who are familiar with the child and who understand the evaluation data and special services options. This might include:

  • The child’s parent
  • General and special education teachers
  • The school principal



  IEP 504 PLAN
What is in the Program / Plan The IEP sets learning goals for a child and describes the services the school will give her. It’s a written document.Here are some of the most important things the IEP must include:

  • The child’s present levels of academic and functional performance—how she is currently doing in school
  • Annual education goals for the child and how the school will track her progress
  • The services the child will get—this may include special education, related, supplementary and extended school year services
  • The timing of services—when they start, how often they occur and how long they last
  • Any accommodations—changes to the child’s learning environment
  • Any modifications—changes to what the child is expected to learn or know
  • How the child will participate in standardized tests

How the child will be included in general education classes and school activities

There is no standard 504 plan. Unlike an IEP, a 504 plan doesn’t have to be a written document.A 504 plan generally includes the following:

  • Specific accommodations, supports or services for the child
  • Names of who will provide each service

Name of the person responsible for ensuring the plan is implemented



  IEP 504 PLAN
Parent Notice When the school wants to change a child’s services or placement, it has to tell parents in writing before the change. This is called prior written notice. Notice is also required for any IEP meetings and evaluations.Parents also have “stay put” rights to keep services in place while there is a dispute.


The school must notify parents about evaluation or a “significant change” in placement. Notice doesn’t have to be in writing, but most schools do so anyway.
Parent Consent A parent must consent in writing for the school to evaluate a child. Parents must also consent in writing before the school can provide services in an IEP. A parent’s consent is required for the school district to evaluate a child.
How Often it’s Reviewed and Revised The IEP team must review the IEP at least once a year.The student must be reevaluated every three years to determine whether services are still needed. The rules vary by state. Generally, a 504 plan is reviewed each year and a reevaluation is done every three years or when needed.
How to Resolve Disputes IDEA gives parents several specific ways to resolve disputes (usually in this order):

  • Mediation
  • Due process complaint
  • Resolution session
  • Civil lawsuit
  • State complaint
  • Lawsuit
Section 504 gives parents several options for resolving disagreements with the school:

  • Mediation
  • Alternative dispute resolution
  • Impartial hearing
  • Complaint to the Office for Civil Rights (OCR)
  • Lawsuit
Funding / Costs Students receive these services at no charge.States receive additional funding for eligible students. Students receive these services at no charge.States do not receive extra funding for eligible students. But the federal government can take funding away from programs (including schools) that don’t comply.

IDEA funds can’t be used to serve students with 504 plans.



13 Disabilities that qualify a student for an IEP

According to IDEA (The law that allows for IEP’s and Special Education), there are 13 disabilities that mandate a child have an Individual Education Plan (IEP).   These 13 disabilities as defined by IDEA:


  • Autism
  • Blindness
  • Deafness
  • Emotional Disturbance
  • Hearing Impairment
  • Intellectual Disability
  • Multiple Disabilities
  • Orthopedic Impairment
  • Other Health Impaired
  • Specific Learning Disability
  • Speech or Language Impairment
  • Traumatic Brain Injury
  • Visual Impairment

If your child does not fall into one of these 13 categories, don’t fret!  The 504 process is designed to help children who do NOT have a disability, better “access the curriculum” in a school setting.

Do you have any questions?  Leave me a comment or email me directly and I’ll do my best to help.


The IEP process can be cumbersome and confusing – especially when you take into consideration all of the acronyms and abbreviations that are used as common English.

The first thing I make sure all of my clients understand are some of the vocabulary that is used during the IEP process.  It’s a simple way to better understand what is happening in the room.  Here you’ll find a rudimentary definition of some of the most important terms.  My goal is to better define (with nuance) each definition and how it applies to children who need help.

At a Glance:

1. There are a series of laws that protect the right of people with disabilities.

2. Under the law, public schools are required to serve the educational needs of eligible students with disabilities.

3. Special Education is a legal term that refers specifically to instruction designed to meet the unique needs of children with disabilities.


IDEA – Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is the federal law that guarantees requires schools to serve the educational needs of eligible children with disabilities.

LRE – Least Restrictive Environment is outlined by IDEA that states that public schools must educate kids with disabilities in a general education setting and with peers as much as possible. LRE is not a PLACE, but set of circumstances that determine how and where a student is taught.

ADA – Americans with Disabilities Act is the federal law that requires schools to make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities.  Through the use of accommodations, students with disabilities (including learning disabilities) are able to fully participate in school.

FERPA – Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act is the federal law that ensures that (under most circumstances) your child’s educational records are kept private and cannot be shared without your consent.

FAPE – Free Appropriate Public Education is an educational right of children with disabilities.  It refers to the legal requirements that public schools provide eligible students with disabilities the support and services required – and preferably in the general education setting.

RTI – Response to Intervention is the process in which schools provide tiers of interventions for struggling students (with or without a disability).

Lau remedies are guidelines to make sure schools follow civil rights requirements when teaching English language (EL) learners.

NCLB – No Child Left Behind is the current name for the federal law (The Elementary and Secondary Education Act) that requires annual testing of students to monitor student achievement.

IEE – Individual Educational Evaluation is the testing done by a qualified examiner is is NOT employed by the school district.

IEP – Individual Education Program is the legal document that outlines the special education services that the school will provide to meet the student’s unique needs.  Includes all services: learning, occupational therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy, behavioral therapies, etc.

504 Plan is an outline of accommodations and modifications made to a student’s education plan if the student DOES NOT qualify for an IEP.

LEA – Local Education Agency is the authority that controls the public school – typically the Board of Education.

Modifications are CHANGES to curriculum for students with disabilities – both in what they are expected to learn and how the demonstrate knowledge.  Modifications are written into a student’s IEP. Modifications may or may not affect grades and/or graduation.  Modifications change WHAT a child learns.

Accommodations are SUPPORTS to a student’s learning environment and are typically written into a student’s IEP or 504 plan.  Accommodations change HOW a student learns.


Do you need something in particular defined?  Are you confused about some of the language on your IEP?  Ask your question below or email me directly.