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IEPs, 504 Plans and the Tier Process

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As we shared in last week’s edition of the Ally, Families as Allies is doing a series of trainings on the Procedural Safeguards, or as they are subtitled and we encourage families to think about them, Your Family’s Special Education Rights. These rights apply if your child is receiving special education services or if they are being evaluated for eligibility for special education services.

During the month of April, we will be sharing information about your rights if your child is receiving special education services and has an Individual Education Program (an IEP). Many different terms can be used related to helping children learn so this week we are reviewing three of those: the Tier Process, 504 plans and IEPs, and what each means.

Keep in mind that the purpose of school is for children, all children, to have the opportunity to learn. There are laws that give extra protection to children who have a disability that affects their learning.

Quality instruction for all students based on standards helps engage children in learning and is the first tier in Mississippi’s Three Tier Instructional Model. Tier 2 gives children who need it more focused extra instruction. Tier 3 provides intensive interventions specifically designed to meet the individual needs of students through a teacher support team.

Your child’s school must share with you if your child is being placed on Tier 3 and ideally will include you as a team member in all stages of the tier process. The Tier Process cannot be used to delay a child from being evaluated for special education services. This Parent and Family Guide to Understanding Response to Intervention explains more about the Tier Process.

Section 504 plans cover students with disabilities who attend schools that receive federal funding and are determined to have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. These students’ disabilities often make it difficult for them to access the curriculum (the things and activities needed to learn), but they are able to learn once they have access to the curriculum.  An example of a student who might qualify for a 504 plan is a child with severe food allergies who needs the classroom cleaned in a certain way to prevent contact with their allergens. Each school district should have a person designated to coordinate 504 plans.  Discrimination complaints related to 504 plans are covered by the Office of Civil Rights within the United States Department of Education.

As we discussed during the month of February, the Child Find section of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) mandates that school districts actively look for children who are suspected to have disabilities that affect their learning and then ask families for permission to evaluate those children. IDEA is the federal law that governs exceptional education.

If children are found to have a disability that affects their learning after they are evaluated, an Individual Education Program (IEP) is developed.  IDEA requires that families be included in meetings and have the opportunity to give input into their children’s IEPs.  IDEA also gives families ways to resolve differences with school districts if they disagree with districts’ IEP decisions.  These options are described in the Procedural Safeguards.

To learn more about families’ rights related to IEPs and how to approach IEP meetings, please join us for this Friday’s 10 AM webinar “Procedural Safeguards and Individual Education Programs.” This document provides more information on the differences between 504 plans and IEPs.

[Photo by Ben Mullins on Unsplash]

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