Everything You Need to Know About Creating an IEP or 504 Plan

Your child’s IEP or 504 plan maps out her path to the education she deserves. Use these expert tips so you’ll be prepared to navigate the process and create ADHD accommodations that work. 

By Eileen Bailey

What is the format of the IEP or 504 meeting? I would like to know what to expect.

After a child is found eligible for special education and related services, a meeting must be held within 30 days to develop the IEP. An IEP or a Section 504 meeting can be intimidating. It can run as long as three hours. Each school district handles things differently, but usually teachers, principal, school psychologist, guidance counselors, special education teachers, school nurse, and others directly affected by the IEP or Section 504 will attend.

For an IEP, parents are required by law to be present; they are an important part of the team. For a Section 504, parents are encouraged to be involved, but it is not mandatory for them to attend. Your child, if old enough, is also encouraged to attend the meetings. You can bring an education advocate or a friend to provide moral support and take careful notes.

As a rule, you will catch more flies with honey than vinegar. Parents should bring a smile to the meeting, and maybe a tray of cookies, to set the right tone.

At the beginning, everyone will sign an attendance sheet to create a record of who was there. Say, “I will need a copy of that sheet, please.” Look at it to see whose name is not legible and ask him or her to spell it for you. Or you can pass around your own attendance sheet. That sends a clear signal to the group that you have been counseled and that, if you can’t agree on accommodations, there will be a hearing. You are saying, “I know my rights.” It indicates that you have knowledge and expertise.

The goal for an IEP or a 504 meeting is for the parent and school to agree on accommodations and to prepare and sign the IEP or 504 Plan documents, although things don’t always work out that way. The team in the room will suggest accommodations that they think will work best for your child. You should bring in a written list of accommodations that you have researched.

Remember that the school’s list of accommodations are ones that they have given to other students, that have worked before, and that they feel might work with your child. But you know your child better than anyone else. Therefore, you should discuss with the team the accommodations you have devised. If those are agreed to by the school, that’s great. If not, it’s a conversation to be had.

Parents are sometimes unhappy with accommodations or services offered by the school, or the school feels parents are being unreasonable. An education advocate may help.

Education advocates often work with the student. They use observation (frequently during homework time) and direct discussions to evaluate the child and come up with strategies that might be helpful. Advocates can also attend meetings and try to determine what obstacles are standing in the way of accommodations. They understand the laws surrounding IEPs and Section 504s.

You might want an advocate if you and the school aren’t making progress on a list of accommodations you can agree on, or you feel intimidated by the school and want someone in the meeting who is “on your side.”

Working with an advocate can change the dynamics of your relationship with your child’s school. If you have had a good relationship, the school might see using an advocate as an adversarial move. Consider the pros and cons and decide what is best for your child.

The school and I have agreed on accommodations. They have prepared the IEP, and they want me to sign it. Is there any reason not to?

You and the attendees’ signatures make it a legal, binding document. Once signed, the school is now responsible for implementing the accommodations and services listed in the document. The school may give you a copy before you leave or mail you a finalized copy.

Many experts and parents recommend that you request to review the IEP or 504 Plan at home before signing it. It is your legal right to do so, no matter how hard the school pushes you to sign it. Say, “We want to take the IEP home and review it, and will return it in two or three days.” Review it with your child’s doctor, occupational therapist, or education advocate to see if they have any suggestions or improvements.

When you return it, you can do one of three things: 1) Return it signed and check off the “approved” box. 2) Return it unsigned, and attach a written statement explaining why you refused to sign. Another IEP meeting will be scheduled so the entire team can discuss your objections. 3) Sign it in the box that indicates you have reservations. Your child’s school district and IEP team will meet again to discuss your reservations.

By taking the IEP home to review, you are sending three messages: 1) you know your rights as a parent with special needs, 2) you are serious about your child’s educational needs, 3) you won’t be subject to school pressure.

If the meeting gets heated or we reach an impasse, what should I do?

If tempers flare, stop the meeting and reschedule for another time. This gives both sides time to reflect on the differences and come up with suggestions. Before leaving the meeting, write down the accommodations you suggested and the reasons the school doesn’t feel they are appropriate. Write down the school’s suggestions.

Before the next meeting, talk with your child’s doctors and therapists about the accommodations you suggested and the school’s proposed accommodations. If they agree with you, ask them to write letters explaining why. Do some research online to determine whether your suggested accommodations have been shown to help other children with ADHD. Use this information to revise your requests or to restate your points at the next meeting.

Review the suggestions the school made. Are there some small changes you can suggest to make these accommodations work? Are there reasons you think these accommodations are not the best options? Write down your reasoning. When you and the school meet again, you will be prepared to explain your position and provide information to back up your perspective. The school might take this time to come up with alternatives that are more acceptable.

If I am still not satisfied with the accommodations, what should I do?

If your meeting is about an IEP, you have the right to request mediation or a due process hearing.

If your meeting is about a 504 Plan, set up a meeting with your school’s 504 Coordinator and discuss the impasse. In addition to an in-person meeting, you should submit your complaint in writing. The complaint should contain the name of the student, an explanation of the problem, and your name and contact information. Make copies of the complaint and keep them. The coordinator will issue a decision. You also have the option of filing a complaint with the regional Office for Civil Rights.

I don’t like the accommodations the school is recommending. Should I keep advocating for ones that I think will work?

If you don’t agree with the team’s suggestions, or you think more services should be included, you have the right to disagree and discuss why you dissent. You have the right to propose accommodations you believe will benefit your child.

Parents and schools don’t always agree, so spirited conversations take place. Some of the reasons schools disagree with parents’ suggestions include:

  • the accommodation is not considered reasonable
  • the accommodation is expensive
  • teachers believe the accommodation will disrupt the classroom
  • the accommodation is difficult to implement

It is best to be open to discussion and listen to the school’s objections to the accommodations you suggest. On the other hand, you should not allow the school to bully you into accepting accommodations that do not adequately address your child’s needs. If you don’t agree, ask the school district to come up with reasonable ways to address your concerns. Stay calm.