Updated: Jul 8
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a civil rights law that protects all children with disabilities from #discrimination in programs that are publicly funded in the US. Children with IEPs also receive protection from discrimination under 504. So what about 504 plans? What are they, and who should have them?
I was offered a 504 evaluation
First of all, if your child has a disability mentioned or implied in the #IDEA (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), he/she should be evaluated for special education eligibility. How do you find out if your child's diagnosis or impairment is in the statute? Ask the school- and double-check with your state's Parent Training and Information Center (PTI). Show the school any private assessments and contact the Child Find coordinator for your district. Schools are responsible for finding and evaluating students, wherever they are and within their jurisdiction.
They told me my child didn't need a special education evaluation
An evaluation under IDEA means a comprehension examination of every possible area of educational need, whether or not related to the disability. In contrast, 504 has vague standards regarding evaluation procedures. A 504 evaluation may be a diagnosis and review of grades. You may be told that your child is passing and there is no need for an IDEA evaluation. If this happens send an email to several administrators to ask for the evaluation and inform them of your expectation that you'll be given a written reason why not if they decide an evaluation isn't necessary. The bottom line is that a verbal response to an evaluation request is unacceptable.
Inform the evaluation at 'informed consent.'
Before the assessments can begin, you will sit down with the school psychologist, or team lead, to discuss and agree on areas of assessment. Approach this forensically. Write down every problem, developmental delay that you can think of. Use this list to ask the evaluator to address concerns through formal and informal assessment. Take an #advocate to this meeting if you are nervous because this evaluation will form most of the foundation for services when your child entering the school system for the first time. Take your Early Childhood Intervention provider too. This individual knows your child and can help guide the school in choosing assessments.
Ask to review the evaluation report before the eligibility IEP meeting
When the evaluation report is complete (within your state's guidelines), ask to review with the assessment team. Questions and concerns should be addressed before the meeting with you. If standard scores are not converted into percentiles, ask that the report is rewritten to include them. If you disagree with any part of the final report and/or its recommendations, your will be prepared to talk about this in the meeting. Sometimes, it is possible for the school to conduct more testing if the report is ready well before the deadline and correct and incorporate more parent information. Remember the descriptor "comprehensive" because many states do not use this word. it will put you in the right frame of mind for tackling inadequate evaluations.
My child isn't eligible for an IEP according to the IEP team
This is where you should consult with an advocate or attorney. The next step, if you disagree with the IEP team, is laid out in the Notice of Procedural Safeguards. No-one is going to point this out to you. Politely disagree and ask for the district to fund an Independent Educational Evaluation at public expense (#IEE). This is a fancy way of saying that the district has to pay for a private second opinion. Advocates know private Licensed Psychologists who conduct excellent and actionable evaluations. They must also present and defend their work at an IEP meeting.
What happens while the IEE is being completed?
More often than not, the school will recommend a 504 plan. The key is that the disability has to '"substantially limit" a "major life activity." The Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAA) states that there should not be an extensive inquiry into this, it: "shall be broadly construed and applied without extensive analysis." Does your child have more difficulty that most children in the act of reading, breathing, standing, concentrating, thinking (insert major life activity)? The list is extensive. If so, he/she would be found to have a substantial limitation because of the disability. What kind of effort is required? It is the effort and not the performance that indicates whether the child is a child with a disability under 504. Parents are not part of the team that makes decisions about their child's education. Yes, parents are invited to meetings, but the school does not have to consider their input.
The bad news about 504 plans
Section 504 plans are a top-down exercise. The school determines what is appropriate and they don't have to consider parental input.There is no requirement to provide an educational benefit or give a prior written notice letter that explains why a school is proposing or refusing an accommodation. There is also no right to request an Independent Evaluation at public expense. The 504 plan only has to accommodate the disability. Disagreements over accommodations are addressed through an administrative hearing known as 504 Due Process hearings. The school district chooses the impartial hearing officer, who acts as a judge, and sets the rules. This may mean that they use an attorney who, although not related to school employees, may be known for school-friendly views. A parent can bring an advocate or attorney, but district rules may say that school witnesses cannot be cross-examined. As you can see, this limits your ability to advocate for your child. Parents often call me when their child struggles on a 504 plan and its often because the 504 plan evaluation came first and there is no IDEA evaluation!
For a more in depth comparison of IDEA to 504, or if you read this blog and believe that your child needs an IEP, please call me to discuss.
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