What is an IEP?
IEP stands for Individualized Education Program. It is a written statement of the educational services that a child who is eligible for special education will receive. The purpose of an IEP is to 1) set reasonable learning goals for the child, and 2) specifically state the services that the school district will provide to the child. IEPs should be personalized to meet the child's unique needs. IEPs are governed by the Federal Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA), and the IEP document is legally binding - meaning the school district must provide the services written in it.
The IEP is developed by a team of school personnel and the child's parent/s. In Iowa, the Area Education Agencies (AEAs) oversee the IEP process. The IEP team meets, reviews assessment information about the child, and develops an educational program to for the child. The initial IEP meeting must be held within 30 calendar days of determining the child is eligible for special education. A child's IEP must also be reviewed at least annually to determine if the child's goals were met and if any changes are needed. A parent can also ask for an IEP meeting at any time.
IEP goals should be SMART - specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. In other words, the IEP document should state exactly what a child should be able to do by when, as a result of the services provided. If a child does not make significant progress toward IEP goals, parents should request a change in the kind of instruction being provided. If a child has average or above average intelligence, parents should request evidence that the services provided are helping to close the gap between their child and his or her peers.
What is a 504 Plan?
The number "504" refers to Section 504 of the federal Rehabilitation Act, which states no one with a disability can be excluded from federally funded programs or activities, including education. Under this law, disability is defined as "a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities." Specific Learning Disabilities are listed as an example of such an impairment, and learning is listed as an example of a major life activity. A 504 plan contains the specific accommodations that a student will receive. Accommodations are changes and adjustments made to give students with disabilities equal access to the curriculum.
Dyslexic students should be eligible for 504 plans. This is because "learning" is listed as a major life activity in the federal Rehabilitation Act, and dyslexia is an impairment that clearly limits learning. Parents who want a 504 plan for their child should do the following:
- Locate and read their district's 504 plan procedures
- Send their school a request for a 504 plan in writing
- Go to the meeting with documentation of your child's diagnosis and a list of requested accommodations.
Resources for parents:
Sample letter requesting a 504 plan
Learning Ally's list of accommodations for dyslexia
Susan Barton's video about accommodations for students with dyslexia
Parents frequently report their child could not get a 504 plan because he or she was not academically behind, or not discrepant enough from peers. Being academically behind is NOT required to get a 504 plan! In fact, the U.S. Office of Civil Rights which governs Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act has issued several documents which explain this. These documents say that parents do not have to go to extensive means to prove their child has a disability that is substantially limiting. The relevant sections of these documents are highlighted:
Parent and Educator Resource Guide to Section 504 - issued Dec. 2016; also discusses special education
IEP and 504 meetings can be emotional and intimidating. We offer this information for parents (read our web site disclaimer):
- Bring your own written agenda for the meeting. Many parents report feeling flustered at meetings. To make sure you express your thoughts, wants, and concerns, bring your own written agenda to every meeting and distribute it to all who attend. Consider emailing it ahead of time. Your agenda can include a list of items you want to discuss, concerns you have, and/or information you want known about your child. Wrightslaw offers an excellent sample parent agenda.
- Take someone with you to each meeting to serve as a note taker. This person's job is to write down everything that is said and by whom, so you can focus on listening and responding. Have your note taker sit away from the main action of the meeting so he or she is not distracting. You may also contact ASK Resource Center about getting an advocate to attend meetings with you.
- Making an audio recording of the meeting is allowed. You may record meetings without disclosing that you are doing so. Iowa law gives an individual the right to record or disclose the contents of an oral, electronic or telephonic communication that they are a party to. If you choose to notify the AEA and/or school ahead of time of your intent to record, expect them to make their own recording as well.
- Don't feel pressure to agree or sign anything during the meeting. Taking time to think is acceptable and encouraged. "I need to think about this and I will get back to you" can be a very helpful statement.
- Don't be afraid to ask tough questions! Review our Questions for Parents for ideas about what to ask.
- After the meeting, write a letter summarizing what was discussed and agreed upon. Send it to all who attended via email or regular mail. Don't skip this step! This letter documents what occurred and what steps will be taken by whom. Remember - if it isn't in writing, it never happened.
If you are an Iowa parent experiencing difficulty getting a 504 plan for your dyslexic child, or are having difficulties with special education eligibility or your child's IEP, please contact us. We want to know what Iowans are experiencing, and we may also have contacts and resources that can help.
For more information, visit the following web sites:
Section 504 Parent Guide - from the Iowa Department of Education