Understanding Educational Advocacy and IEPs.

What is an Educational Advocate?

Navigating special education waters can be confusing and intimidating for many parents. The terminology alone is overwhelming with IEPs, IFSPs, 504s and more.

Professional advocates promote a child focused environment and facilitate parent participation in the development of an outcome focused IEP. Much like malpractice lawyers, nurses or doctors, patient advocates help create a collaborative environment where communication is fostered and cooperation is the norm.

What is an IEP?

The IEP, or Individualized Education Program, is a legal document that describes your child’s special needs and outlines the educational services he or she will receive. It includes present levels of performance (assessed by evaluations), goals and objectives, a one-on-one aide or service, functional outcomes, a behavioral plan, and a timeline of when the services will begin and end.

It is best to involve your child in the IEP process at a young age so that they learn to self-advocate and understand their disability and learning abilities. Children should participate in their IEP meetings at least once every three years, unless you and the school district agree in writing that it is unnecessary. Reevaluations must also take place at least once a year. If you do not like the results of a reevaluation, you can file for mediation or due process in most states.

What is a 504 Plan?

A 504 plan is a legal document that ensures equal opportunity for students with disabilities. Its protections are fewer than those of an IEP.

A student who has a disability that substantially limits one or more major life activities can qualify for a 504 plan. That includes students who have medical needs or learning disabilities, such as ADD/ADHD and dyslexia.

The school district must evaluate the child using a process that can vary by state and school. The evaluation may include looking at test scores, medical records, observations and interviews with teachers and guidance counselors.

A 504 plan outlines accommodations to help your child succeed in the regular classroom. It can include things like preferential seating, audiobooks, enlarged text for reading assignments and more.

What is a Section 504 Plan?

Section 504 requires schools receiving federal financial assistance to evaluate students who might have disabilities. The school must then determine if the student has an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity and what accommodations may help him or her succeed in the regular education classroom.

The school must consider a wide variety of information when making this determination. This includes test scores, observations, teachers’ and guidance counselors’ assessments, medical records, and parental input. However, a physician’s medical diagnosis is not required to qualify a student for 504 services.

During your 504 meeting, it is important to make sure that you understand everything that is being discussed. Ask for your child’s plan in writing, and keep it somewhere safe. Also, ask the team to give you an explanation of any terms or phrases that are unfamiliar to you.

What is a Section 504 Meeting?

A Section 504 meeting is a school meeting to review your child’s disability accommodations and modifications. Schools are required to hold meetings at least annually or more often if circumstances change. The meeting participants are the student’s teachers, the principal or designee, and the parent/guardian.

Federal law does not require schools to invite families to Section 504 plan meetings, but most are happy to have you there. If you want to make sure that your meeting is productive, reach out and ask for an invite early.

Educational advocates are fee-paid professionals who have extensive knowledge of special education programs, 504 Plans and IEPs, as well as academic support that students with disabilities can receive from the public school system. They can facilitate meetings and mediate. They can also provide legal advice and representation during impartial hearings or due processes in some states.

What is a Self Advocacy Meeting?

A Self Advocacy meeting is a place where people with disabilities come together and choose their own path forward. Self Advocacy is a civil rights movement that was created by and for people with disabilities.

A self advocacy group is a support network where people can discuss issues and solutions together, and create positive change in their communities. They can also work on educating legislators about disability related issues and pushing for policies that support inclusive learning tactics.

A Self Advocate can also provide referrals to local community resources for example camps, private schools, residential placements and college programs for LD students. They can also help parents find a qualified Special Educational Attorney. Attorneys are licensed to practice law and can represent parents in impartial hearings, due process, prepare legal documents and offer legal advice.

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