Prepare for 504 or IEP Meetings with a Lawyer’s 4 Best Tips

Christy Calbos

Navigating the world of disabilities and education can be confusing. To ensure that parents are well prepared to make the most out of either IEP or 504 meetings with their children’s school, they’ll do best to consider the following 4 steps.*

1.  Know the Difference Between 504 and Special Education Eligibility.

a) Empower yourself by learning about the criteria for eligibility, either by reading on your own, consulting with an advocate, or taking a class.

This is important because an ADHD diagnosis does not automatically qualify your child for school eligibility for a 504 Plan or an IEP.

b) What are the major differences between 504 and Special Education (IEP)?

  • For IEP eligibility, a student must be diagnosed with a disability that impairs his or her ability to make effective progress without specialized instruction, accommodations, and/or related services.
  • A student with a 504 plan is able to make effective progress in school without the need for specialized instruction and/or related services. However, accommodations are required for equal access to the instruction and/or the facility. Therefore, a 504 plan provides accommodations that allow a student with an impaired major life activity to have the same level of access as students without disabilities to instruction, school activities, and the school building.

c) Review all evaluations, observations and other data that the school’s team has used to determine eligibility. You may have to ask for copies in advance of an eligibility meeting. Note that each state has varying requirements, so you may want to consult your state Department of Education, Parent2Parent organization or local CHADD group for resources and assistance.

d) If the school deems your child ineligible for 504 or special education, consider asking for:

  • specific data that supports the team’s current decision,
  • data to be taken for the next 90 days and forwarded to you on “problem areas,” and
  • a meeting date in 100 days to reconsider the eligibility question.

You may want to consult with an advocate or specialist before the next meeting.

2.  Be The Expert on Your Child.

In any 504/IEP Meeting, it is best not to assume that the school team understands ADHD, or all the ways it can impede learning.  Make yourself an expert on your child and the way that this disability shows up for him or her.  If your child has a diagnosis of ADHD, you can use the criteria below to document specific challenges. If your child has not been diagnosed but you suspect ADHD, now is a good time to seek out independent evaluation.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), there are three patterns of behavior that indicate ADHD, and you want to be clear where your child’s school life is impacted by each of these areas:

    • Inattention. Signs of inattention include:
      • becoming easily distracted by irrelevant sights and sounds
      • failing to pay attention to details and making careless mistakes
      • rarely following instructions carefully and completely
      • losing or forgetting things like toys, or pencils, books, and tools needed for a task
    • Hyperactivity. Signs of hyperactivity include:
      • feeling restless, often fidgeting with hands or feet,
      • squirming, running, climbing, or leaving a seat in situations where sitting or quiet behavior is expected
      • need to keep moving, talking, or being actively engaged
    • Impulsivity. Signs of Impulsivity include:
      • blurting out answers before hearing the whole question
      • having difficulty waiting in line or for a turn
      • taking action before thinking through consequences

Since we all have some of these behaviors, the DSM lists specific guidelines for determining when they indicate ADHD. The behaviors must appear before age 12, continue for at least six months, be more frequent or severe than in peers, and create a true limitation in at least two areas of life (school, home, work, or social).

3. Determine Appropriate 504 Accommodations and Proposed IEP Goals.

Do not rely exclusively on the school district to propose appropriate accommodations or IEP goals. Deficits may exist for your child in multiple academic, social, functioning, and emotional areas, but schools may not want to create an accommodation or goal for every need. You may hear, “We already cover that in XYZ subject” or “We’re okay – we’ll work on that in XYZ class.”

Approximately two weeks before your meeting, ask for a draft plan/IEP – you want enough time to review it. Consider consulting with an advocate to develop specific, measurable goals that you believe would be appropriate for your child.

Remember, 504 accommodations level the playing field, and IEP goals address deficits.

4. Walk into the Meeting Well Equipped.

There are four Must-Haves For 504 or IEP Meetings:

a)   Proposed Accommodations/Goals. Take several copies of your proposed accommodations/goals to distribute to team members.

b)   Agenda Topics. Come up with your own list of “must-discuss” items (parent concerns, etc.) and email this to the school 48 hours

before the meeting. Distribute several copies again at the meeting.

c)   Recorder. As human memories are faulty, record the meetings (give the school system at least 24 hour notice),

d)   An Advocate (does not have to be professional, though that is helpful when possible). At most IEP meetings, you will deal with

          • Procedure: the order and manner of discussion
          • Substance: content and its structure with Present Levels of Functioning, Strengths,Weaknesses, Goals, Accommodations, Related Services, and Placement.

Consider taking someone with you as an advocate to high stakes meetings. Meetings are often fast-paced and confusing. Advocates can help you navigate complicated discussions, and function as a voice of steely clarity when you need it.

*This article provides information about the law designed to help readers. However, legal information is not the same as legal advice (the application of law to an individual’s specific circumstances), so  it is recommended that you consult a lawyer for your particular situation.

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