Parents are rarely ready to receive a diagnosis that their child is differently disabled or will face unexpected life challenges. Perhaps they knew that the diagnosis was coming, but, sometimes, it’s totally unexpected; either way, they have entered a new reality. Suddenly, they find themselves reading everything available on the Internet and being intimidated by terms such as “IEP” and “504 accommodation.”
Schools are obligated to provide services and accommodations for individuals with disabilities and special needs through Free and Appropriate Education (“FAPE). Appropriate education exists where a program is reasonably constructed to provide an academic benefit to a student based on the individual needs of that student.
Appropriateness is defined by Individuals with Disability Act (“IDEA”) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (“504”); they often co-exist, but can be exclusive of one another.
IDEA is a Federal Statute intended to ensure free and appropriate services for children with disabilities. IDEA covers students, ages 3-21, where the disability adversely affects the child’s educational performance or ability to benefit from general education. Students who require services under IDEA benefit from an Individual Education Plan (“IEP”), which is usually developed by a team that includes teachers, specialists, and parents of the child. An IEP states the services to be received, such as speech, physical or occupational therapy, or mental health counseling are the most frequent services contained therein, but additional accommodations can also be included.
504 provides an opportunity for accommodations to be made for any person with a disability so that he or she may participate, to the greatest extent possible, in any activity or organization, which is Federally funded, such as a public school. 504 is more broadly defined than IDEA; it includes individuals with mental or physical impairment that limit a major life activity, such as school, if that impairment is either on record or generally known. Under 504, a student can access support, including, but not limited to, auxiliary aides, an altered education environment, behavior management, modified testing, or repeated instruction.
Both IEP and 504 accommodations require that a written document specify how a program is to be executed for the specific student. For parents, it can be an emotional, stressful, and overwhelming experience. Both special education lawyers and advocates are able to assist families in developing the document, but only a special education attorney can litigate the matter, if it becomes necessary.
Please feel free to contact me for additional information or a consultation.