This question flows nicely from our last segment of Ask the Attorney. Let’s first review a couple of things. To qualify for an Individualized Education Program (IEP), a student must meet the criteria for disability categories under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Massachusetts law. This is law that provides protections for students with disabilities and requires that each student receive a free and appropriate public education (FAPE).
The IEP lists specific goals and specialized services the student will receive in school. Any student who receives an IEP automatically receives protection under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (commonly referred to as Section 504). Section 504 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability. A 504 plan describes accommodations the student needs to better access all aspects of school. 504 plans typically address learning and social needs, but can also be used to outline other needs, such as allergies, that affect some part of the school day. The 504 plan does not describe specific academic services or supports; that only happens in the IEP.
Now that we have the bases covered, let’s talk about the team. Keep in mind that the wording differs between districts and states, so don’t be alarmed if your child’s school has different titles for the individuals who carry out these roles.
Under IDEA, the IEP team must consist of:
- A general education teacher who works with the student
- A special education teacher who works with the student
- The special education coordinator or another representative from the school district
- A parent (or guardian)
- The student with a disability whenever appropriate
- Often other specialists or anyone else who has helpful information about the student
The 504 team typically consists of:
- The 504 coordinator
- The principal or another representative from the school’s administration
- The parent (or guardian)
- Sometimes a guidance counselor may also be part of the team
It is possible that the special education coordinator and the 504 coordinator are the same person, but there should be some different members of each team as well.
Consult the school or district handbook for clarification on their process. Remember, it is always helpful to speak with other parents who have been through the meetings. They likely have some insight they are willing to share!