504 Plan – IEP Goals – Special Education Laws

This article pertains to anyone with a child who might need a Student IEP or Plan 504 for any disability. (Not just those with life threatening food allergies.)

If your child is in public school and has special needs or a disability, you more than likely have or are looking into getting a Student IEP or Plan 504. (Otherwise known as Individualized Education Plan or Section 504 Plan). We’ve talked about both plans in great detail along with IHCP’s (Individualized Health Care Plans) in regards to life threatening food allergies (considered a disability under section 504 and ADA-American with Disabilities Act). However, we haven’t fully discussed the certain circumstances in which you might want or need both. Thanita Glancey brings the issue up on her blog Vicky’s Ickies: IEP or 504 or Both?

An IEP is a plan put in place, at schools, to ensure that the educational needs of a child with a special need or disability is being met. A section 504 plan is a plan put in place to ensure your child receives a “free and appropriate education” equal to that of his/her non disabled peers. (Otherwise known as FAPE.)

If your child’s disability affects learning, then he/she qualifies for a Student IEP. If your child’s disability affects one of his/her major life activities, then he/she qualifies for a Plan 504.

“Section 504 covers qualified students with disabilities who attend schools receiving Federal financial assistance. To be protected under Section 504, a student must be determined to: (1) have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; or (2) have a record of such an impairment; or (3) be regarded as having such an impairment.”

“The determination of whether a student has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity must be made on the basis of an individual inquiry. The Section 504 regulatory provision  at 34 C.F.R. 104.3(j)(2)(i) defines a physical or mental impairment as any physiological disorder or condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or anatomical loss affecting one or more of the following body systems: neurological; musculoskeletal; special sense organs; respiratory, including speech organs; cardiovascular; reproductive; digestive; genito-urinary; hemic and lymphatic; skin; and endocrine; or any mental or psychological disorder, such as mental retardation, organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness, and specific learning disabilities. The regulatory provision does not set forth an exhaustive list of specific diseases and conditions that may constitute physical or mental impairments because of the difficulty of ensuring the comprehensiveness of such a list.” (Both quotes from US Dept of Education)

So the main question is “What if your child’s disability affects learning AND a major life system, OR what if your child has multiple disabilities that fall into both categories?”

This is where things get muddy and while there is are federal disability laws–not all states or schools interpret the law the same. Add to that the fact that some schools do the bare minimum regarding special needs kids and don’t or won’t share this type of information (unless pressed to do so) and you are left with many parents confused and many kids without appropriate services.

Speaking from experience. You are your own child’s best advocate. Don’t assume that the school will or is going to do what is right or follow the law 100%. Schools have many kids and tight budgets. As a parent you need to educate yourself and advocate for what your child needs.

If a child qualifies for both a Student IEP and Plan 504, an IEP is usually all inclusive. All goals and accommodations can be written into an IEP. If there are medical concerns–a child can have an Individual Health Care Plan (IHCP) as well.

If the disability does not affect learning, then the child might qualify for a 504 plan–so long as the disability meets the above quoted criteria. (Life threatening food allergies fall into this category.)

Thanita Glancey’s blog post questions “What happens when a child no longer needs an IEP?” This is a great question and one that all parents should think about. When many parents ask the school, the response is “well then you can get a 504.” Thanita’s point is that there could be school administration changes or many other changes. What happens when the day comes and the people you originally dealt with are no longer at the school? What happens if the current people won’t give you a 504 plan?

For example: If a child has an IEP for speech or occupational therapy or physical therapy and also has life threatening food allergies, what happens when speech is no longer needed? What happens when all IEP goals are met?

In those instances the child “may” no longer need an IEP and could in theory apply for a 504. (If a life threatening food allergy affects learning–it can be listed on the IEP under Other Health Impairment (OHI).

If a child no longer needs an IEP, the options are:

Get both a 504 and IEP. Some schools will either give you a hard time or tell you outright that it can’t be done. You might need to follow up at the state level Board of Special Education Appeals (BSEA)

If the school states you can get a 504 later, require that the school give you that information officially in writing. This can potentially help you down the road with pressuring the then current staff/team OR at least gives you some legal ground to stand on.

Add additional/needs goals to the IEP when other goals are met and/or refuse to sign that an IEP is no longer needed. The school can’t just stop services or cancel an IEP–they need parental approval.

If your child has an IEP under a category like Autism, deaf blindness, or something that they won’t ever outgrow–then it is likely that they will have the IEP for the length of time they are in school. However, keep in mind that at the college level, there is no such thing as an IEP.  The IEP will become a 504 document. Students are still eligible for certain services, but there are no goals and objectives that a student needs to accomplish.

Following is a list of the typical 13 IEP categories (some states/schools may have some slight wording differences)

  • Autism (Aut)
  • Behavior/Emotional Disorder (BD)
  • Deaf/Blindness (D/B)
  • Deafness (DF)
  • Hearing Impaired (HI)
  • Mental Impairment (MI)
  • Multiple Impairment (MD)
  • Other Health Impairment (OHI)
  • Physical Impairment (PI)
  • Specific Learning Disabilities (SLD)
  • Speech/Language Impairment (S/L)
  • Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
  • Visual Impairment (VI)
  • Developmental Delay (DD):
    One or more of the above listed disabilities for ages 3 -5 years old.

Having a child with any special need or disability can be difficult. Adding the maze of legal school plans is enough to drive any parent crazy (or at the very least to give up). While there are some schools/districts that are gems when it comes to Special Education, there are many more that are barely meeting the minimum required by law.

From personal experience my advice for anyone dealing with a current plan, trying to get a plan, or having difficulty with the school is as follows:

-Educate yourself as to your child’s disability, needs and your rights under the law.

-Keep a correspondence folder and keep all school communications in writing. If there is a phone call or meeting, take notes and follow up with an email or letter of understanding.

-Try to stay calm and keep your emotions in check. (Admittedly not easy for me to do personally.) It’s your child and it’s okay to be passionate and upset, but emotions can cause us to say things we don’t mean and act in ways we wish we didn’t.

-Never go to a school team meeting alone. Always try to bring a spouse, friend or someone else as a second set of ears. This will help you with keeping your emotions in check and will give you the support you need. Going into these meetings alone can be sometimes be intimidating!

-Do your best to keep your relationship with staff and the school as professional and as compromising as possible. It’s much easier to get along with everyone then be the parent who makes everything difficult. (I know, I was that parent.)

-The squeaky wheel gets the grease. Being professional doesn’t mean being a door mat. Some schools will try to walk all over you. Educate yourself, make a list of wants/needs/musts and stand your ground. (I know this too because before I was the difficult parent, I was the doormat parent.)

-Take a time out and praise yourself for being a great parent. Parenting in general is not an easy job. Dealing with special needs and disabilities is not an easy job. Fighting for what your child needs in school shouldn’t have to be a job, but unfortunately for some of us it is. The hard work and effort will pay off as you watch your child learn and grow. Just remember to also take care of yourself, your spouse, and other children/family members while you take care of and advocate for your special needs child.

For other relevant articles click on the below titles:

Food Allergies and School: A Guide to Keeping Your Child Safe and Included
This new e-book covers everything you need to know about keeping your food allergic child safe and included in school.

When Do You Need A Care Plan for Food Allergies
Detailed information on IHCPs, 504 plans and IEP’s as well as what might be right for those with life threatening food allergies.

Health and Action Plans
Links to examples of the variety of plans that you might want or need.