Leslie has been helping parents navigate the school system by negotiating IEP's at CSE/CPSE meetings, designing 504 Plans and consulting with parents about their children's education since 1997. Creating the best educational plan for your child requires a set of decisions which will last their lifetime. The guidance and expertise of a professional advocate is instrumental to getting the job done right whether through an IEP or 504 Plan.
The special education process and the development of an Individual Education and 504 Plan can seem like a bewildering maze of bureaucratic red tape to a parent who is both new and old to the process. An Individual Education and 504 Plan is a legal document, a signed contract between you and your school district. You and the school district must sign this document before it can go into effect. If need be this document can be enforced in a court of law.
Your children's education is a precious right. Your children are entitled to a Free and Appropriate Education. As parents, you make every conceivable opportunity to safeguard those rights, especially if your children have special needs and require individualized educational programs. My goal is to support the educational, behavioral, and social/emotional needs of protecting your children's rights, by empowering you the parent and holding school districts accountable for adequate support services to make sure your child receives a Free Appropriate Education. That means that each school district is required by law to provide the best available services in the least restrictive environment.
Steps in the Special Education Process for CPS/CPSE:
- Does Your Child Have a Learning Problem: The first step in the special education process is to identify any learning problems and if so what kind of help will your child need. Your child may not need special education services but needs help because of ongoing learning problems that requires assistance. School Districts are required by law to provide services in the regular classroom before a referral is made to the committee on special education.
- Referral for an Evaluation: You as the parent or your child's teacher may feel it is necessary to evaluate your child to determine how severe their learning problems are and whether a disability exists. The decision to evaluate your child comes from a referral made to the building child study team during a meeting where you may be asked to attend. You may bring an advocate to this and any other meetings. The building level team will consist of the chairperson of the child study team, your child's classroom teacher(s), building school psychologist and other support personnel. If you are not at this meeting, you will be asked to come in and to talk to the building psychologist about the recommendations of the team. If you agree with the recommendations, you will be asked to sign a consent to evaluate your child. Once you sign the consent, a team of specialist has 60 days to evaluate your child and hold a meeting with the Committee on Special Education for school age children or Committee on Preschool Special Education for children 3 to 5 (CSE/CPSE). All special education meeting must be held at a mutually agreeable time and place for the parents and committee members. Parents must be given adequate notice to enable them to attend. Parents must be informed of who will attend and the purpose of each special education meeting. Parents can refuse to have committee members attend. If the committee agrees, and the parents give consent, your child will then be evaluated in a process that involves several different types of tests administered by a multi-disciplinary team. This team always consists of a school psychologist, and when necessary a special education teacher, speech pathologist, occupational or physical therapist. A request for additional evaluations such as an audiological, medical, neurological, neuropsychological or psychiatric evaluation may be necessary in order to clarify your child's learning problems. Districts can often pay for the additional outside evaluations. Once all the evaluations have been completed, you will receive a notice in the mail prior to any CSE (CPSE) meetings. Fifteen days before the CSE (CPSE) meeting all evaluation reports will be mailed to you for your review. At the meeting, the CSE (CPSE) will go over your child's strengths and weaknesses based on the evaluations and will discuss the recommendations of the team and an appropriate course of remediation.
- Eligibility Is Determined: Your child's special education team, including you will set up a meeting to review the results of the evaluation and determine whether your child meets the state's regulatory guidelines for diagnosis with a disability (CSE/CPSE). If you do not agree with the decision of the committee, you can make a request for mediation, file a formal complaint or request a due process hearing. If you are not satisfied with the test results, you may request an outside evaluation which the district must pay for.
- When Your Child is Eligible for Services: If your child meets the eligibility criteria, then the committee agrees your child has a disability, the school must develop an Individual Education Plan (IEP) or 504 Plan. The IEP must be developed within the original 60 day timeline and no more than 30 days after the child is determined eligible for special education services.
- An IEP Meeting is Held: The committee, including you the parent, meets with the multi-disciplinary team to develop the IEP. Schools may develop a draft of the IEP and bring it to the meeting but, the IEP is not finalized until the meeting is held and the committee members and you have input into the document.
- The Committee Finalizes the IEP and Decides Placement: Once an agreement on the content of the IEP is reached by all parties, the committee determines the most appropriate free educational placement for your child. Placement can range from a fully inclusive program in a regular education classroom to pull out services in a small group ( no more than 5 students), or in a self-contained classroom. In some cases, a child may be served in a special school either within or outside of the district, or of in a hospital. You the parent will be asked to sign a consent for the agreed upon services to be provided.
- Annual Review Meetings: An annual review must be held yearly to determine continuation of services for the upcoming school year. You will receive an invitation prior to this meeting. Updated reports from your child's specialists will be presented at this time. If continuation of services is warranted, a new IEP will be developed for the upcoming school year. It may be determined at this meeting that your child no longer requires special education services and all services will be dismissed either at this meeting or at the end of the school year. Again all documents must be signed by you and the school district. If you do not agree you can then ask for a new meeting, due process, an outside evaluation, an impartial hearing, or mediation. You may also request a Superintendent's Hearing.
What is a 504 Plan?:
You have probably heard about a 504 Plan, but every school district addresses it in a different manner. Compliance to a 504 Plan which is a federal statute, is not optional. School districts can not OPT OUT. Section 504 is part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that prohibits discrimination based upon a disability. Section 504 is an anti-discrimination, civil rights statue that requires the needs of students with disabilities to be met as adequately as the needs of the non-disabled are met.
A 504 Plan offers all children with disabilities equal access to an education. In some cases this may include special education services, but for a child in a wheelchair it may mean a ramp, classes on the first floor of a school, or an elevator to access classes on upper floors. For an ADHD child if may mean extended time on tests in a quiet room.
- The 504 Plan is documented in a written plan.
- Unlike the CSE/CPSE process, specific timelines for a 504 do not exist.
- There are no requirements stating who must attend the 504 plan meeting.
- Reports of noncompliance and the request for a hearing are made to the Office of Civil Rights.
- The 504 Plan does not offer as many specific procedural safeguards as the IEP.
- Most of the time assessments are not performed for 504 Plans. For example, if your child has been diagnosed with ADHD, the doctor's written diagnosis and upon receipt, will offer accommodations with a 504 Plan.
- Often the schools will not provide related services, program placement, behavior support plans, etc. when the student does not qualify for an IEP, although the law clearly states that these services may constitute FAPE under a section 504 Plan.
- Most of the time districts do not provide procedural safeguards and if they do, the safeguards are deficient and/or contain misinformation.
- Section 504 Plans and the school staff who write them usually use a check-off list of available accommodations. The staff then checks off a few which may or may not be relevant to the student's needs, but they are on the list and simple to implement. If your child needs something different, the school may respond, "We can not do that" which would not necessarily be true.
I meet with parents on a regular basis to review their children's IEP's and advocate for their children at CSE (CPSE) meetings. I have a team of psychologists, social workers, speech pathologists, special education teachers, occupational, and physical therapists who will also re-evaluate your child. Please call me for a free 30 minute telephone conference.