504 v IDEA
When dealing with services and accommodations there are two options available for your child while in public education, a Section 504 plan or an Individual Education Plan, or IEP for short.
They are two very different yet strikingly similar methods of managing your child's education. There are key things you need to understand regarding their differences so you can make the best decision possible for your child.
Section 504 is a part of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act and prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in programs that receive federal financial assistance, i.e. public schools. Like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Rehabilitation Act it is a very robust law that governs many aspects of civil rights for the disabled. It is important to note however that it is an accommodations law, not a services law. It is a law that protects a disabled person's rights to equal access to work, school and accessibility standards for life in this country.
Under Section 504, your child's accommodations will be spelled out. The school and teachers are supposed to follow the accommodations at all times in order to ensure access to a Free and Appropriate Public Education or FAPE. Any violations of defined accommodations is not legal. If violations happen, you may file a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights. The complaint is called an OCR complaint and the process for how that can happen is listed here: https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/complaints-how.html.
To obtain a 504 for your child, submit a request for a dyslexia evaluation under Section 504 in writing to your school leadership which may include the counselor, teacher, vice or assistant principal, and principal, depending on what is the norm for your state / district.
There are no strict timelines for a 504 evaluation, but it should not take an unreasonable amount of time. As a guide, follow your state's guidelines for the IDEA evaluation process, follow up frequently in writing, and drive it through.
What 504 is not....
Section 504 does not guarantee a parent's rights. A 504 team may be convened at the school and changes made to the child's accommodations without either the knowledge of permission of the parent, up to and including termination of the 504 plan.
Section 504 does not include services. While schools may offer services to your child for their dyslexia, it is not an aspect of Section 504, which again is purely an accommodations law. Services will include dyslexia remediation. Because 504 is not a services law, specific goals will not be made and a specific commitment to days and duration of dyslexia remediation are not guaranteed. The school is not legally bound to provide services therefore advocating for these under a 504 is especially difficult.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, known as IDEA, is a Special Education (SpEd) law that covers both accommodations and services. There are 13 qualifiers for IDEA and a Specific Learning Disability is one of them, under which dyslexia will and does fall.
In the words of Drs. Sally and Bennett Shaywitz, saying "Specific Learning Disability" is akin to saying "Infectious Disease," but saying "Dyslexia" is akin to saying "Strep Throat." What this means is, if you pursue an evaluation under IDEA, you want to have the evaluation findings state DYSLEXIA, not just Specific Learning Disability or SLD for short.
Now, let go of your assumptions regarding Special Education. With IDEA, Special Education was overhauled, and it is a service, not a place. Our children are not short changed on their graduation plans or in what classes they can take, nor will they be in a resource room full time with children with more severe disabilities.
One of the key points of IDEA is what is called Least Restrictive Environment (LRE), and for our dyslexic children that is a General Education (GenEd) classroom. Their services, however, will be covered by a teacher outside of their GenEd classroom. This teacher may be a GenEd dyslexia teacher or a SpEd teacher, or even both.
IDEA does not stipulate WHAT kind of teacher must provide services to your child, and that is a very important note.
An evaluation under IDEA is typically far more robust than under Section 504. To request an evaluation under IDEA, here is a template, which can also be found under Help & Guides / For Parents, https://www.thedyslexiainitiative.org/for-parents.
The specific name of the evaluation tends to vary state by state so it is important to understand what your state / district calls the evaluation, for example, in Texas the evaluation is called a Full Individual Evaluation, or FIE for short, but people outside of Texas usually don't hear that term. IDEA is very specific about the timelines that the evaluation must abide by, and states may modify those timelines, but they may not extend them, only shorten them. To understand your state's guidelines, click here: /https://www.wrightslaw.com/blog/determining-evaluation-timelines/.
If and when an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is granted under IDEA, accommodations and services will be defined and GOALS will be written. The goals within the IEP must be robust, reasonable but stretch the child and the team, and measure progress against what is defined in the contract that is the IEP. These measurements must be reported to the parent at a periodic interval, typically with the report card. The team must show progress against the goals, or the goals are inappropriately written. Note too that overwhelming progress is a sign that the goal is inappropriate because it is too easy.
Violating the IEP plan is a violation of IDEA. To see more please scroll down to Disputes under IDEA.
Key Differences in 504 v IDEA
· Under IDEA a parent's rights are guaranteed, as mentioned earlier under 504 they are not.
· No changes may be made to an IEP plan without the parent's consent, including terminating the IEP
· If neither side agrees on the proposed changes for a goal then there are defined means of dispute including arbitration and due process. Note that either side may initiate both means of dispute.
Disputes under IDEA
Before filing a dispute read this: https://www.wrightslaw.com/info/advo.complaint.howey.htm, then if you are determined to file a dispute the process is defined here: https://www.wrightslaw.com/blog/the-idea-state-complaint-resource-center-your-guide-to-effective-state-complaints/
I requested a 504 or IEP evaluation and everything was denied. Now what?
This is not an overwhelming obstacle, but it is challenging. Note that some districts engage in this practice as a means of delaying the process as long as possible.
Regardless of 504 or IEP, what you will request is an Independent Educational Evaluation or IEE, but for those disputing their 504 evaluation findings, this does trigger the rules of IDEA so know that going in.
The IEE is at the district's expense. You as the parent get to choose the evaluator, though the district have the right to propose a list of their preferred people, and your choice of evaluator must be accepted by them. I always advise that you take their list with a grain of salt, but investigate and find the evaluator that you prefer. Note that the amount the district is willing to pay may not be equal to what that person usually charges, but for districts, more often than not, they accept the district fee and do not charge more. A balance at the end of the process may not be charged to the parent. Your right to dispute the finding is protected in IDEA and you are not financially responsible for that process.
To request an IEE, here is a template
While IEE's are covered under IDEA, it is an option for a rejection of a 504.
For a detailed look at the IEE process and timeline please see: https://www.wrightslaw.com/info/test.iee.steedman.htm.
While all of the processes have long timelines, remember these key points:
504 is an accommodations law
IDEA is an accommodations AND services law
Parents rights are not guaranteed under 504
Parents rights are guaranteed under IEP
Determine how many services your child needs, what your financial ability to provide outside services is, and if the school can help play a role in remediating your child. If services are needed, an IEP gives you more teeth and your child more protection.
If your child IS NOT reading on grade level, an IEP is very likely a better option for your family.
You may pursue a 504 first, and an IEP second, in order to get accommodations and some services in place more quickly, depending on the normal 504 timeline for your district.
Once you have an IEP do not give it up, as getting it back may prove extremely challenging.
While legally you can have a 504 and an IEP at the same time for the same child, it is not recommended. Get the greater condition under the IEP, then add in the others.
Additionally, we have had a great conversation with Peter Wright of www.wrightslaw.com on Dyslexia Coffee Talk and he shared amazing information about the legal aspects of supporting our dyslexic children. The presentation he shared with us can be found here: https://www.wrightslaw.com/dyslexia/coffee.talk.dyslexia.pdf
And lastly remember one key thing...
IF IT IS NOT IN WRITING IT DOES NOT EXIST!
Conduct your requests, all questions and follow ups in writing, regardless of what method you choose.