There’s no one-size-fits-all program for students with chronic conditions, but when the right plans are put in place, it’s possible to help them reach their full potential. Two plans in particular are designed to facilitate learning in a traditional classroom: an IEP, or individualized educational plan, and a 504 plan. Here’s what you need to know about them.
What’s the difference between an IEP and a 504 plan?
The IEP was born out of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act. Its purpose is to ensure that all children with disabilities can receive an education and, if necessary, will be given a modified curriculum specific to their needs. If a student has an IEP, the teacher may need to alter lesson plans, provide additional material, or create special assignments. An IEP is a very specific, custom-designed education plan that outlines in detail how a particular child needs to be taught and what modifications need to be made by the teacher.
A 504 plan is less specific and doesn’t physically have to be written down but it will be helpful if it is. This plan is part of a civil rights law stating that a child with a disability of any kind will not be discriminated against. Under this plan, instead of modifications, accommodations must be made such as giving a student extra time on tests and homework or allowing them to use a computer for written assignments.
How do I know which plan to choose?
It depends. In order to determine which of the two plans is right for your child, you’ll need to make a formal written request to school administrators, explaining why you think an IEP or 504 plan is necessary for your child’s education. After that, you’ll schedule a meeting with the school’s staff and provide documentation that supports your child’s disability (such as a medical diagnosis) along with past schoolwork demonstrating the struggle that he or she may have. An evaluation test may be given to more accurately identify your child’s specific learning needs. The test results will help determine whether your child qualifies for an IEP plan or a 504 it’s one or the other, since an IEP only encompasses 13 disabilities, whereas a 504 is broader and more inclusive.
The plan is in place. Now what?
It’s up to you to make sure the school is following the prescribed plan that you’ve worked together to create, whether it’s an IEP or 504. The best way to do that is by documenting everything along the way and staying organized. Keep a binder with everything related to your child’s plan from meetings and discussions with the school to copies of homework to support benchmarks and proof (or lack) of efficacy along the way. That way, when you meet with the team at the school for an educational review, everything will be in one place and you’ll have solid information to share. Even though a 504 plan is less formal than an IEP and doesn’t require the school to have a plan in writing, it’s a good idea to take notes and to know what has been promised, following up if there are issues along the way.