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Support vs. Crutch

When your child needs help, you naturally want to do everything you can to make sure that he succeeds.  But sometimes, we don’t give kids enough credit for what they can do.

It’s a difficult balance… providing support, but not creating a crutch.


Remember,  your goal should be to create an environment where they can be successful in school so that they can be successful in life.  For some kids, that may mean lifelong dependency.  But, for most kids, it means that they will have to learn how to thrive in spite of their disabilities…

Extra time, quiet environments, calculators are all things that we – as adults – can use in our professional life.  For example, if we are not deadline driven, we can find a job where we can take out own time to figure out the problem.  We all have calculators to figure out the tax on a restaurant check.

Having an aide (or computer technology) read to a child who has difficulty reading, but is ABLE to read, doesn’t set that child up for lifelong success.    As an adult, we need to read – street signs, menus, emails, not to mention contracts, phone bills or an election ballot.  Eventually a child who has the ability, needs to learn HOW to read.  Don’t hold your child back by building an IEP with so many accommodations that they are not given the freedom to stretch and grow.  Instead of a reader, that child may need extra time with a teacher to develop better reading skills and strategies.

A big part of learning comes from failing… and we need to make sure that our children are able to fail SAFELY, so that they can stretch past their limitations to learn new skills.

Remember, the point of an IEP is to create an environment where your child can LEARN NEW THING (support), not an environment where others are doing the hard things for him (crutch).

Confused about the difference, or want to know what supports may be appropriate for your child?  Let us know!


the “I” in IEP

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a school administer say “we don’t do that here”, or “that’s never been done”.

There’s a reason why the word INDIVIDUALIZED is the first word in the IEP process — each child should receive the specific support that he/she needs to succeed. Not the type of support that the school is comfortable offering. Not the cookie-cutter program that the teachers are used to. An INDIVIDUALIZED program. When the school administrators start pushing back, it’s a sign that the program that you are discussing is truly specific for your child.

Keep going.
Don’t let up.
You are an expert when it comes to your child.

Don’t let the administrators bully you into a program that isn’t right for your child.
And don’t feel bad. The whole point of the IEP process is to create an unique program that addressed YOUR child’s individual needs.

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.




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.


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