School Supports (ages 3-21)

Your child's school can support his/her needs in a variety of ways. Because every child is unique, accommodations, modifications, participation and educational planning will look very different for each child.  Together, you and the school team can determine what is appropriate for your child.

There are many ways to meet a child's educational needs, including general education accommodations and intervention plans, 504 plans and Individualized Educational Programs (IEP). Below is a visual representation of the hierarchy of support for children ages 3-21. While most children can be served through general education interventions that utilize resources available in the building, schools are not legally bound to uphold them.

When children need additional modifications and more individualized instruction, legal processes can be put in place to ensure that they are provided. A 504 plan is a legal document that outlines the accommodations needed by a student with a disability in order to have equal access to education. An IEP is an individualized, legal document that describes necessary accommodations, modifications and services for students with disabilities. IEPs provide the most intense and comprehensive support because schools receive additional funding to implement them. No funding is provided for general education interventions and 504 plans.

School support graphic

General Education Accommodations and Intervention Plans

The goal of most parents and educators is for their child to participate in the general education curriculum to the greatest extent possible.

For many children, they can be successful in their general education classroom if certain accommodations are put in place.  For example, many children just need a "safe spot" to go to when they feel overwhelmed or instructions presented differently (i.e. visually, in smaller chunks). These types of accommodations can usually be provided by your child's teacher.  In many schools, teachers can implement simple behavior and accommodation plans.  Therefore, the first step is to meet with your child's teacher to discuss his/her needs and how they can be met in the classroom.  In order to facilitate this process, schools are required to have General Education Intervention Teams (aka Student Intervention Teams (SIT), Student Assistance Team (SAT), CARE teams). These teams typically include teachers, administrators, counselors, parents and other professionals that could contribute to the intervention planning process (i.e. school psychologists, social workers). Hopefully, you will come up with a plan to help your child be successful while participating in the classroom with his/her peers!

Section 504 Plans

Sometimes, the need for accommodations is greater than what is typically done in the general education classroom.  In this case, your child might need a 504 plan to ensure that they get the accommodations that they need. Section 504 is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities.

According to Section 504, programs that receive federal funds (such as schools) are required to make reasonable accommodations for people with known physical or mental limitations. Therefore, this law ensures that children with disabilities should have equal access to an education. However, no funding is provided through Section 504 and local agencies are required to pay for any costs related to its implementation.

A 504 plan includes accommodations and modifications that put children with disabilities on "a level playing field" with children without disabilities. In order to be eligible for Section 504 services, a team evaluation must be conducted to determine if the student "needs accommodations or services to participate in the school program."  Typically an evaluation involves gathering and reviewing information from previous testing (i.e. medical/ psychological/ educational records). When developing a 504 plan, the team should consider (a) the needs and limitations of the student (b) alternative ways for the student to participate, perform tasks and achieve educational outcomes and (c) how to individualize the accommodations to meet the unique needs of the student.

Individualized Educational Plans (IEP)

If a child cannot benefit from the general education curriculum without direct, specialized instruction and services, then an individualized educational plan (IEP) can be developed. Eligibility for special education services is determined after it is clear that the student's needs cannot be met through general education.

Typically, the General Education Intervention Team would refer the student for an evaluation if the data from the general education intervention suggests that the student is not improving and/or needs additional support. Parents can also request an evaluation, however the school can choose to respond to the request in a variety of ways (i.e. agreeing, refusing, conducting  general education interventions first). When a child is referred for an evaluation, the team has 60 days to answer two questions: 1) Does the student have a disability (as defined in IDEA) and 2) Does the student need special education and related services in order to receive an appropriate education? If the answer is "yes" to both of these questions, then your child is eligible for special education services.  If your child is eligible for an IEP, then you and the school team will create a plan that outlines specific goals for your child's education and the services needed for him/her to meet those goals.  These services could include special education support in the general classroom, specialized instruction in a special education classroom, speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, and social work services.

Individualized Educational Program (IEP for children 3-21)

More specifically, the Individualized Educational Program (IEP) defines appropriate education for each individual student. IEPs should be reviewed annually with appropriate team members present (parent, general education teacher, special education teachers, administrator, and person who can interpret evaluation results).

The IEP must include:
  • Present level of educational/ academic achievement and functional performance
  • Measurable annual goals
  • Special education and related services to be provided
  • How much they will participate in general education classes and activities.
  • Needed modifications in administration of state or district assessments.
  • Dates of services and anticipated frequency, location and duration.
  • If child is 14 years or older, a statement of transition services.
Statement about how child's progress will be measured. For more information on IEPs go to:http://idea.ed.gov/explore/view/p/%2Croot%2Cdynamic%2CTopicalArea%2C1%2C

Overview of IDEA and Parent Rights

Your rights as a parent of a child with a disability and an outline of the main components of special education law (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act; IDEA also known as Public Law 94-142) are presented below:

Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)

  • IDEA mandates that children with disabilities (ages 3-21) have the same access to free appropriate public education as is guaranteed to children without disabilities.  Therefore, children with disabilities are entitled to education, financed by the public, which is appropriate to their age and abilities.
  • This includes special education (specifically designed instruction to meet the unique needs of a student with disabilities) and related services (transportation and other developmental, corrective and supportive services that are needed in order for a student to benefit from special education).
Non-discriminatory Evaluation
  • This principle states that schools must conduct a comprehensive and individual evaluation before placing a child in special education or beginning special education services.
  • The purpose of an evaluation is to determine if (a) the student has disabilities as defined under the law and (b) determining the nature and extent of the student's educational needs.
  • The evaluation must:
    • Be completed within 60 days of initial parent consent
    • Be conducted by a multi-disciplinary team including the parent or appointed surrogate, a general education teacher, a special education teacher, a representative of the school district (i.e. principal or administrator), an individual who can interpret evaluation results (i.e. school psychologist), other individuals who have knowledge or expertise, and the student (when appropriate).
    • Use a variety of assessment tools (i.e. record reviews, interviews, observations and tests (both standardized and curriculum based)
Measurement instruments should be technically sound, administered by trained personnel, and administered in the manner and language that is most likely to yield information about what the child knows and can do academically, developmentally and functionally, to the greatest extent possible.
For more information on evaluation visit the U.S. Department of Education website.
Appropriate Education/ IEP or IFSP
  • The Individualized Educational Program (IEP) or Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP for children ages 3-5) defines appropriate education for each individual student.
  • IEPs should be reviewed annually, while IFSPs are reviewed every six months, with appropriate team members present (parent, general education teacher, special education teachers, administrator, and person who can interpret evaluation results).
  • The IEP must include:
    • Present level of educational/ academic achievement and functional performance
    • Measurable annual goals
    • Special education and related services to be provided
    • How much they will participate in general education classes and activities.
    • Needed modifications in administration of state or district assessments.
    • Dates of services and anticipated frequency, location and duration.
    • If child is 14 years or older, a statement of transition services.
    • Statement about how child's progress will be measured.
Least Restrictive Environment (LRE): This principle means that...
  • To the greatest extent appropriate, children with disabilities should be educated with children who do not have disabilities.
  • Children may not be removed from the general curriculum unless that can not benefit from it, even with supplementary aids and resources.
  • Children should only be placed in separate classes and/ or facilities only when the nature and severity of the disability prevents them from being successfully educated in regular classes (even with supplementary aids and services)
  • LRE should be individually determined for each child.
Due Process or Procedural Safeguards: Students with disabilities and their parents have rights and equal protection under the law including:
  • The right to be notified of important meetings and changes.
  • Parental consent must be obtained to:
    • Initiate an evaluation for special education services
    • Placement into a special education program
    • Re-evaluations
    • Changes in IEP meetings (excusing team members)
    • Release of a child's records to other agencies outside school districts
  • Access to records, confidentiality of records and the right to challenge content of records.
  • Participation in decision making process related to their child.
  • The right to an independent evaluation if they do not agree with the district team's assessment.
  • The right to a Due Process Hearing if disagreements between parents and the school district cannot be settled.
Parent Participation means that parents have the right to participate in the education of their child and serve as team-members when making decisions and planning services. This includes:
  • Parental participation in their child's evaluation
  • Parental participation in their child's IEP meetings and plan development
  • Parental access to educational records
  • Parental involvement in the development of educational policy

Last modified: Aug 24, 2012
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More information

Check out these websites/books for more information:

IDEA 2004

Procedureal Safeguards

Parents' Guide to Special Education

National Association of School Pychologists

"Free and Appropriate Education": R.T. Turnbull and A. Turnbull, 2005

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