How Do I Get School Services for My Child?
Schools will use evaluation results to determine if your child is eligible for accommodations in school or special education services. Students may qualify for a wide range of supports organized under either a Section 504 accommodations plan or an Individual Education Program (IEP). Most states have a Parent Training and Information Center that can help you with any questions you may have about the laws in your state.
A Section 504 plan provides kids who have learning disabilities with “reasonable accommodations” that allow them to participate in the general curriculum at school.
Section 504 is part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, a civil rights law that prevents discrimination against any person with a disability at an institution that receives federal funding, including schools and colleges. To qualify under Section 504 your child must demonstrate that she has a disability that substantially limits her in one or more “major life activity.” This might include speaking, listening, concentrating, reading, or writing. Children who do not qualify for services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) may qualify under Section 504.
Depending on your child’s needs, her Section 504 plan could entitle her to a wide range of accommodations, such as special seating, a quiet place for testing, extra breaks, the use of a computer, different text books, different testing formats, and much more. All appropriate accommodations will be established at the 504 Planning Meeting, which you should attend, as well as any subsequent periodic reviews. Learn more about 504 plans from the National Center for Learning Disabilities.
What is an IEP: Individual Education Program
Students can get an Individual Education Program (IEP) if they qualify under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, a federal law that promises a “free and appropriate education” to children classified with various specific legal disabilities. Categories of disability under IDEA include:
- Hearing or visual impairment
- Developmental delay
- Emotional disturbance (includes many psychiatric disorders)
- Intellectual disability
- Orthopedic impairment
- Other impairing health condition
- Specific learning disability
- Communication disorder
- Traumatic brain injury
All children who qualify can receive assistance through their local public school district, including those who attend private or parochial schools.
To set up an IEP you will attend a meeting with representatives from the school district (teacher, special education teacher, school psychologist, appropriate specialists, etc) to plan an education program that suits your child’s unique needs. This will involve setting specific measurable goals for what you would like your child to accomplish (e.g. reading X number of words a minute) and whatever special education services or accommodations she needs to accomplish those goals. An IEP might include specially trained educators, special teaching methods, accommodations like extra testing time, and whatever else is considered appropriate. You are free to bring an advocate, private learning specialist, or special education attorney with you to the meeting or consult with them before signing off on the IEP. The plan must be reviewed at least once a year, although you can request to do it more frequently. Learn more about IEPs at Understood.org.