504 v IDEA
by Ashley Roberts
When parents enter the fray of advocating for their children, what kind of services their child starts off with depends on several factors including but not limited to, the educational culture within their state and individual school district, the manner in which their child is identified, meaning did the parent suspect something was wrong and requested testing, did the school recommend testing, etc., the support system existing around the parent(s) when the struggle was first detected, and so on and so forth.
For myself and many of my friends, our experience is a bit different from many others. What I mean by this is that the state of Texas had an illegal cap on Special Education identification and over a period of just a few school years decreased the number of children actually enrolled in SpEd.
Regardless, Texas, like so many other states, prefers to manage dyslexia under a 504 program as opposed to managing the need under Special Education, as ruled by IDEA.
But, that's neither here nor there for this piece. The purpose here is to clarify the difference in 504 and IDEA so that you, as the parent and advocate, understand the options in front of you, so that you can make an informed decision.
"Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act was the first disability civil rights law to be enacted in the United States. It prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in programs that receive federal financial assistance, and set the stage for enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act." https://dredf.org/legal-advocacy/laws/section-504-of-the-rehabilitation-act-of-1973/#:~:targetText=Section%20504%20of%20the%201973,the%20Americans%20with%20Disabilities%20Act.
Note the call out on "received federal financial assistance." This is important. Schools receive federal funding, therefore they are subject to this law.
"Section 504 is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Section 504 ensures that the child with a disability has equal access to an education. The child may receive accommodations and modifications.
Unlike the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Section 504 does not require a public school to provide an individualized educational program (IEP) that is designed to meet a child's unique needs and provide the child with educational benefit. Under Section 504, fewer procedural safeguards are available to the child with a disability and the child's parents than under IDEA." https://www.wrightslaw.com/info/sec504.index.htm
These references provide enormous clarity. Section 504 is ACCOMMODATIONS ONLY. The school DOES NOT have to include the parent in the decision making process, invite you to any meetings, or inform you of anything. You may have been included to date, however your legal right as the parent of a minor child is not protected. You are an outsider to the process.
Note that under 504 you cannot guarantee any of the following will happen:
Goals are not included in 504 plans
You will not and cannot be guaranteed that program fidelity is followed
You will not and cannot be guaranteed regular and yearlong access to a teacher, for a program to be delivered
A log, checking your child in and out of their dyslexia class, and what has happened in the course of the class, will not be generated or provided.
Yes, there are exceptions to the above. There are some great dyslexia department heads and, as a result, some districts manage 504 well and children thrive. Sadly, however, these exceptions are few and far between.
So all of that being said, 504 is great if you child only needs accommodations or modifications. If your child needs more than that, i.e. services, then protecting your child under IDEA is the best route.
An Individualized Education Plan or IEP is a contract created under the special education law the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, more commonly called IDEA or The IDEA.
It is SERVICES AND ACCOMMODATIONS. The parent has a seat at the table and control over their child's destiny within their education. The law is robust and has defined legal methods for dealing with conflict and what should and should not be provided to the child.
Under IDEA, your child would have an Individualized Education Plan, or IEP for short. The IEP states the educational diagnosis, the accommodations and modifications, if any, are clearly defined as are the goals that the school is responsible to target in the individualized instruction that is provided to your child. The goals should be robust, challenging and a stretch for both the educators AND the child. An easy goal is a bad goal. We will explain more in a future blog post.
For my child I looked at it this way, I wanted control over his education because I'm a major proponent of parental rights. I did not want decisions made about my child's education without my express input. Also, I wanted the school to be responsible for his success or failure, and not whether or not we provided enough private remediation to combat his weaknesses.
Yes, your child will be classed as Special Education, but remove from your mind all the preconceived notions and stereotypes you may have.
Your child has to be taught in a specific way so of course they require special education.
There is no short bus (unless you want it), and they will not be in a classroom with students suffering from other, more severe disabilities. They will be in a General Education classroom, with a General Education teacher, except for their pull out for dyslexia intervention which may be with a Special Education teacher in a resource room, but again, they are with peers or alone for the remediation, not with children with more severe disabilities.
You can move back and forth between a 504 and an IEP as needs dictate, but most in the advocacy community will not recommend this. If you get an IEP plan, hold onto it. Of course you can only decide this for your child so do what is best for your child and their particular situation.
If your child is in elementary, an IEP is likely the best route. You are likely NOT GOING TO GET PROGRAM FIDELITY UNDER 504 however you can force it in an IEP since IDEA supports program fidelity.
Program fidelity means a researched based program provided in the recommended setting whether 1:1 or as much as 4:1 or 6:1, with a minimum number of minutes per week.
How do I decide if my child should be on a 504 or an IEP?
That's a great question!
First let me clarify that there is no scientific evidence that proves that dyslexia is a spectrum, but as we can see in our day to day lives, no two dyslexics are alike and some struggle FAR greater than others, and within the struggle, various weaknesses exist. So, having said that, we're going to "pretend" there is a spectrum; so look at this chart:
I frequently make the argument that if your child is all the way to the right on mild, and I mean ALL THE WAY, then this child does need remediation to learn to decode and the foundational building blocks of how to read, especially given the LACK of any scientific basis of reading in the American classroom, but will likely do extremely well with just accommodations; so a 504 might work well.
This is why Structured Literacy (SL) is so critical. If SL is implemented in EVERY classroom in this country, then for the child that is mild on the spectrum, remediation will never be required because they have all of the tools they need to thrive provided to them in their GenEd classroom through daily instruction beginning in Kindergarten. Some accommodations may still be required, but educationally speaking, they're great.
The child that is more than Mild, needs remediation and accommodations. Remediation is a SERVICE, and services are covered under IDEA.
The children on the Severe side of the spectrum will require a great therapist and a lot of patience. It will take time, but progress and reading skills can be achieved.
If you want to convert to an IEP, begin the process today. Here is a link to a template to request special education testing: https://www.thedyslexiainitiative.org/for-parents. Edit the letter to suit your child's needs. I recommend that you both HAND DELIVER and EMAIL the letter to your school. When you email be sure to cc yourself for guaranteed delivery.
Federal and State timelines will immediately kick in per the guidelines in IDEA. Your state may have stricter timelines, but may not exceed what is defined in IDEA, which is why I mention the state timelines.
The school might deny your special education testing request, but note that they MUST DO SO IN WRITING and their denial needs to be clear and factual. You may reject their statement and push back. You have rights and IDEA is clear on how that will play out.
I recommend Wrightslaw.com for more information on the process itself, especially this link, https://www.wrightslaw.com/idea/art.htm, and I recommend in investing in your own copy of Wrightslaw Special Education book which may be found here, https://www.wrightslaw.com/store/selaw2.store.html. Wrightslaw also offers a downloadable class which can be found here, https://www.wrightslaw.com/store/cd.law.advo.html.
It's important that we also include the following link which covers Frequently Asked Questions About Section 504 and the Education of Children with Disabilities https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/504faq.html.