The Fort Hood Exceptional Family Member Program held a special education workshop Sept. 20 at the at Soldier and Family Readiness Center.
Robin Tenboer, PATH Project regional 12 coordinator, facilitated the workshop. PATH Project is a part of the Partner’s Resource Network. The network breaks down special education legislature and services, which helps parents effectively communicate with school faculty.
“A lot of times with children with disabilities, it can be a fight and struggle for parents and teachers. Being able to have that open communication with the school is very important to ensure the child gets everything that they need,” said Tenboer.
Thursday morning’s workshop dismantled common misconceptions about the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.
Under IDEA, eligible students receive supplemental services, which are specified in an Individual Education Program.
Section 504 requires public schools to meet the needs of students with physical or mental impairment as adequately as those without disabilities. Eligible students receive a 504 Plan.
IEPs layout individual academic modifications. The 504 plans list student accommodations, which are standard procedures for a specific physical or mental impairment.
“If you have the option to have an IEP versus a 504, your student is more protected under an IEP than a 504. Not all students are appropriate for an IEP,” Tenboer said.
For example, an IEP can contain a behavioral prevention plan. The plan can limit how many suspensions a student receives. The prevention plan is not included in 504 Plans.
Both programs use evaluations for eligibility; however, a medical diagnosis does not guarantee a Free Appropriate Public Education.
“Just because a student has a medical diagnosis, it doesn’t mean they automatically qualify for 504 Plan or an IEP,” Tenbor said.
Parents must provide written consent for evaluations. After the evaluation, both programs have a team meeting. The team consists of staff who work directly with the student and the parent. The plan should cover safe guards for anyone the student may interact with outside of their class room.
Eligible parents can request advocates from Fort Hood EFMP. Advocates can help parents build binders to keep track of IEP or 504 Plan documents and attend team meetings.
“The parent can bring anyone they want to the meeting. If you are going to bring an advocate, you need to let the school know. If you bring an advocate, a lot of times they bring a lawyer for double protection,” Tenboer said.
Lastly, IEP and 504 Plans are not meant to segregate children from their peers. Schools cannot prevent children with disabilities from attending field trips or joining extracurricular activities. Unless the class room is not conducive for a child with supplementary aids and services, children will be placed in classrooms with children without disabilities.