What is a 504? or an IEP? you ask?
Both are plans with legal weight, that help a child with special needs navigate the school system.
A 504, in my words, is providing special accommodations for a child who really could complete the standard school requirements if they had a little special provisions to do so. Basically, it is leveling the playing field for one that struggles. Examples of some accommodations:
- Testing in a quiet area
- Having an extra day to turn in work
An IEP (Individualized Education Plan), in my very non-professional words, is making changes to the actual requirements for a child who can't meet them, or providing significant intervention to help them meet them. Examples might be:
- A one-on-one teacher's aide
- Changes in attendance requirements
Now here's the deal. It kind of depends on your kids' school, how any of this will play out. For instance, my first intervention meeting this spring was for Miny, who has been struggling with reading. After our meeting, we (principal, teacher, school psychologist, special ed teacher, reading specialist) decided that really we didn't need to do anything at this time. We all knew that as long as Miny was at this particular school, teachers were willing to make accommodations without a legal mandate - just to help him. We decided that really Miny basically needs to work harder sometimes and focus more. We decided we might get him some help for attention. The staff agreed that they would occasionally provide him with a separate work space for testing and extend the time limits for testing. However, as we proceed next year, we'll decide if we need to actually make a legal form that will transfer with him into secondary education.
Eeny however, is a different story. Eeny needed a 504 about seven years ago, and has suffered and struggled without one. Even though the school year had only three weeks left when we had our initial meeting, I felt it was necessary to just get started. I would have done it much sooner, but we have had a really hard time getting necessary paperwork and even any kind of agreement among the medical community to give the school the best picture of what was going on. At the high school level, our meeting involved a principal, a counselor, the school psychologist, and us (the parents). Making intervention at this point in the game is saving him a failing grade in a class, because the teacher is willing to bend her rules and allow him to catch up late work.
At the high school level, the individual teacher response has been much different. "We have other options, but he has to have a 504 to have them." "If he fails, he can take it again next year." "Wow! I had no idea, of course he can make up his late assignments!"
For Eeny, his 504 will allow him to: wear headphones during independent classwork where he is not missing instruction, request a separate room to take tests in, be allowed an extra day to complete assignments, be allowed to show his work (like math problem) in an alternative method that makes sense to him (or possibly not show it at all if he knows how to get the answer, but can't show how he got there), and be provided with alternative explanations and available resources if things don't make sense to him This last accommodation is honestly a no-brainer to me, that is simply provided by teachers that care. However, we've been met with enough, "I'm not legally obligated" statements to know that SOME teachers must be legally obligated....and there you have it.
Have you embarked on this journey? How has your experience been?