Educational Supports

School Supports

Most schools have a variety of supports available for students. These supports often represent a hierarchy of intensity, from more general supports offered to all students, to more specific supports individualized for one student.


Below are the most common ways to access support for your child.


Student Study Teams (SST): A problem-solving team including the parents, teacher, principal, and other school staff to understand the child’s challenges and create a plan for support within the general education class.


Response to Intervention (RTI): A systematic process of identifying where learning breaks down and intervening before the child has failed. RTI aims to teach students the specific skills they need to overcome challenges at the first sign of struggle. This is also a general education support.


504 Plan: An individualized plan for students with disabilities who need modifications and accommodations within the general education classroom to access their education. Many students with a 504 Plan have a disability but do not need the intensity of Special Education in order to learn.


Special Education or IEP: Students who have a disability and who are showing significant struggles in their learning may qualify for the most individualized types of supports. Within Special Education, students may access increasingly intensive levels of support as the team sees necessary.

504 Plans

 

How to Obtain a 504 Plan

1. Talk to your child’s teacher to see if they share your concerns. If you have an opportunity for a parent-teacher conference – take it. The teacher can be your child’s best advocate when they have needs that aren’t being met.


2. Request a Student Study Team (SST) meeting. This team–which includes you, the parents–will discuss the strengths and challenges of your child and come up with possible interventions. Bring any documentation you have regarding your child’s disability for the team to consider. Depending on the nature of the disability, the team may wish to try some classroom interventions first, or a direct referral to the 504 team may be made.


3. Request a follow-up meeting 6-8 weeks later to learn about your child’s progress towards the goals set at the previous meeting. The team is likely to offer higher levels of intervention if your child is not responding or improving.

For most students, this process is sufficient to get the support they need to be successful in school. If you have met with the school, implemented supports and interventions, and your child continues to struggle, it may be time to request a higher level of support. Continue with the following steps:

4. Write a letter requesting an assessment for a 504 Plan. Give a copy of this letter to the principal. Sample letter template.

5. Meet with the 504 Team. The 504 Team may consist of the principal and your child’s teachers, or there may be a separate coordinator. The team will determine if your child qualifies for a 504 Plan. Just like in Special Education, you have rights which will be explained to you and a plan will be created to support your child.

At a Glance: Your Rights in the 504 Plan Process.
504 Plan vs Special Education: What’s the Difference?

Individualized Education Plan (IEP)

How to Obtain an IEP

Special Education is the most individualized type of support a struggling child can receive. The Special Ed staff is comprised of specialists with specific training on how to work with students with disabilities that significantly affect learning. Special Education provides modifications to the educational program so that children with disabilities can have a Free and Appropriate Education (FAPE) in the Least Restrictive Environment” (LRE).

If your child is struggling to learn in the regular classroom, Special Ed will make sure they still get access to an education that is both free of cost and appropriate for them. All children have a right to an education.

In every school, there is a process for requesting Special Education services. This process protects your child from being unfairly or inaccurately labeled and ensures that they get the right type of support in the fastest way possible.

In every school, there is a process for requesting Special Education services. This process protects your child from being unfairly or inaccurately labeled and ensures that they get the right type of support in the fastest way possible.

1. Talk to your child’s teacher to see if they share your concerns. If you have an opportunity for a parent-teacher conference – take it. The teacher can be your child’s best advocate when they have needs that aren’t being met.

2. Request a Student Study Team (SST) meeting. This team – which includes you, the parents – will discuss the strengths and challenges of your child and come up with possible interventions. This may or may not include an evaluation for Special Ed depending on the situations. The team may wish to try some classroom interventions first to see if your child responds and improves.

3. Request a follow-up meeting 6-8 weeks later to learn about your child’s progress towards the goals set at the previous meeting. The team is likely to offer higher levels of intervention if your child is not responding or improving.

For most students, this process suffices to get the support they need to be successful in school. In many schools, your child may take part in a process called Response to Intervention (RTI) which is designed to ameliorate difficulties before they become disabilities, though this is not a requirement.

However, if you have met with the school, implemented supports and interventions, and your child continues to struggle, it may be time to request a higher level of support. Continue with the following steps:

4. Write a letter requesting an assessment for Special Ed. Give a copy of this letter to the principal as well as a member of the Special Education staff (ask the school’s Office Manager how to reach them). Sample letter template.

 

5. Know the timelines. Once the Special Education process is started, several legally mandated timelines apply:

 

  • Within 15 days of your request, you will receive a response. This response may be (1) a meeting with you to talk about your child’s challenges, (2) an Assessment Plan to complete the assessment, or (3) a letter refusing to complete the assessment with specific reasons why it is not appropriate at this time.

  • Within 60 days of signing the Assessment Plan, they will ask you to attend a meeting with the Special Education team to review the assessment results and determine the best next steps.

 

Note: Many people believe that writing a letter will force the school to assess the child; this is not completely true. However, your letter does obligate the school to review your child’s file and determine if an assessment is necessary. If you submit this letter before going through steps 1-3 your request may be rejected.

 

6. Finally, your child must meet eligibility criteria. There are two important considerations to be eligible for Special Education:

  • The student must have a disability.

  •  

    The disability must be adversely affecting their education at this point in time.

Both must be true for the child to be eligible for Special Education services.

This means that there are some students with diagnosed disabilities that will not qualify because they are able to learn in the regular classroom. Unfortunately, this does not mean “learn to their highest potential”: the word adverse specifically means that they are achieving far below the “average” student.

This also means that there are some children who are failing who will not qualify. If the child’s education is “adversely affected” due to an issue that is not directly related to a disability, they may not meet criteria. For example, if a child is failing because they are truant from school, they may not qualify.

[Note that the law does not require that the child’s academics be impacted by the disability. Although grades and standardized test scores may be one measure of educational performance, California requires that a child be assessed in all areas related to the suspected disability, including, if appropriate, social and emotional status. Thus, a child who can obtain high marks on tests is not necessarily excluded from an IEP.]

Understanding Your IEP

If your child is diagnosed with a disability that does adversely affect their education, the team will create an Individualized Education Plan, or IEP. This document contains the specific accommodations and modifications to instruction that your child will need to access their education. Here are some important things to look out for:

The IEP is based on two important principles:

  • Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE): Every student in the United States is entitled to a “free and appropriate public education”. This means that every child has a right to an education in a public school that is appropriate to his or her needs. The word “appropriate” specifically means that the child can access the curriculum and achieve at the average expected level for his or her age (nationally, not specific to the school).

  • Least Restrictive Environment (LRE): Every student in the United States has a right to be educated in an environment that is as close to a general education classroom as possible and still be FAPE. This is a very important protection: this is what prevents schools from simply isolating students with special needs or refusing them an education. The IEP team will work hard to serve your child’s needs in an environment that is as close to general education as possible.

  • The IEP will contain specific goals with measurable outcomes. These goals are often written in a “special-ed” language. Ask your team to explain what these goals might look like in the classroom. You may also see testing accommodations for classroom as well as State testing. These may include additional time, questions read aloud, or a private room for testing. Your child may have a Behavior Support Plan as part of their IEP. This document supports children with difficult behaviors to learn the skills they need to communicate in a more effective way.

 

Know Your Rights

 

You have many rights as a parent when your child has an IEP. You will be handed a booklet with your rights at every IEP meeting. The meeting facilitator will briefly review your rights. Here are a few that sometimes are glossed over:

 

  • You can bring an advocate. You have a right to bring anyone you wish to the meeting. The IEP team will consist of Special Ed staff, a general education teacher, parents, and the principal. Please let them know if you would like anyone else present. I am available to attend school meetings.

  • You do not have to sign. The IEP process is long and confusing. You do not have to sign the IEP right then. You can bring it home, think about it, review it with a friend, and decide later.

  • You can request a follow-up IEP meeting at any time. The team will convene once each year to review the IEP goals. However, you have a right to request a meeting at any time to review your child’s progress. You must receive a response within 30 days.

  • You can disagree. If you disagree with the assessment, you can request an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE). If granted, your child will be evaluated by an outside professional of your choosing (within certain requirements) and another meeting will be held to consider the new results.

  • You can agree to parts of the IEP but disagree with others. In this scenario, you may sign the IEP and indicate exactly which parts you agree with and where you disagree.  For example, you may agree to the goals, but disagree with the diagnosis, or vice versa.

Helpful Links:

Private Schools

  • Request a team meeting first. Just as in a public school, private schools often have a team that meets to problem-solve around student needs. This is most often called a Student Study Team. This team will help guide you through the best process for getting support for your child.

  • You have a right to request a free evaluation from the district. If you or your child’s teacher suspect your child has a disability, you have a right to request an evaluation from the local school district. To do this, write a letter stating your request to the district’s Special Education department, or ask your school’s director the best way to make this request.

  • The private school is not obligated to provide services. In most cases, if your child is eligible for Special Education, you have a difficult choice to make: work with the present school using the new information from the evaluation, or transfer to a public school to receive direct services. In some cases, the district may agree to provide some services at the private school site, though these may not be as comprehensive as they would be at the public school.

  • The school cannot discriminate against your child. A private school cannot ask a child to leave a school solely based on his or her disability. At the same time, private schools are allowed to have specific requirements for admittance or attendance. If the child’s disability prevents them from meeting these requirements, they may be asked to find a school that is a better fit. Know your rights if the school has asked or suggested you go elsewhere.