It’s IEP season again – the time of year when those of us with children who are developmentally delayed sit down with resource teachers and various other individuals employed by the school system to discuss progress, goals, services, and plans for the upcoming school year. I’ve heard horror stories from others about having to fight for their children, but our IEP experiences have always been good. This year, however, I was worried. The resource teacher at Sarah Kate’s school, Mrs. B, had caught me at the school one day and mentioned to me that they thought it would be better to move Sarah Kate to a 504 plan.
I had no idea what a 504 plan was, but I was…suspicious. I did a little research (most of which was geared toward kids who don’t have an IEP, so it didn’t help much), appealed to Twitter for help (crickets…) and discussed it with Mr. Andi (who didn’t have much of an opinion on the subject).
So, what’s the difference between an IEP and a 504 plan?
In layman’s terms, a 504 plan doesn’t provide special services, doesn’t have the legal “teeth” of an IEP, and doesn’t address goals and objectives for the student’s education. A 504 plan essentially only provides accommodations for the disability.
I’ll admit that I went into the meeting feeling a bit adversarial. The resource teacher was there, as were Sarah Kate’s regular classroom teacher, Mrs. I, and the adaptive P.E. teacher, Mr. Bill. I asked a lot of questions, and Mrs. B was clearly taken off guard by the fact that I didn’t just smile and sign the paperwork she had prepared (not her fault – I definitely blindsided her because I’d seemed amenable to the idea when we spoke earlier).
The meeting had essentially reached what I’d call a cordial stalemate, with me unwillingly to accept the IEP, but then two things happened:
First, Mr. Bill said “Moving to a 504 would get rid of the special education label.” I thought about it for a minute and realized that he was right. Despite my desire for it to not be that way, “special ed” still has a negative connotation to most people, even if only for the hassle factor. In the second grade, that’s not a big deal, but as she gets older, it may well be.
Second, I looked over at Mrs. I, who’d been mostly quiet during the meeting. I suddenly remembered that her adult daughter was born with a significant physical disability that inhibited movement. I asked what her daughter had, an IEP or a 504, to which she replied that her daughter never had an IEP, only a 504. I pressed for more information, and she offered that the 504 was always followed and they never had any issues with it.
At that point, I was convinced.
I’ve always insisted that Sarah Kate participate fully as a typical kid, and that the accommodations made for her are only what is absolutely necessary. If I were to ask Sarah Kate what she wants, she would no doubt agree, as she already complains to me at home sometimes about the other kids helping her too much.
A 504 plan won’t set physical goals for her (although I’m sure that Mr. Bill will!), and she will miss out on receiving some therapy services through the school – that’s the downside. However, she also won’t be pulled out of class, away from her typical peers, to go to therapy (and honestly, I feel that therapy is OUR responsibility, not the school’s). She’s always been viewed as just a girl who happened to need a little extra time or assistance to do some things; now that’s how the school will see her on paper, as well.
School’s officially out for the summer now, and I’ve waved goodbye to the IEP. No worries, though – I’ll get another crack at it in a couple of years.