504 Plans Vs. IEP’s

While 504 plans and IEP’s both offer supports and protections to students with disabilities, there are two very important differences between them. First, only IEP’s offer specialized instructional services. In order to qualify for an IEP, you need to demonstrate a disability that impacts your ability to learn; and the need for specialized instruction. For example, a 5th grade student with 3rd grade math skills would need specialized instruction to bring his math skills up to grade level. Second, there are more laws and agencies that govern the implementation of IEP’s. Therefore, there are far more legal protections for IEP’s than 504 plans.

To reinforce the difference between the two, please consider the three sample students below:

Student A – has vision problems, but with glasses, their learning is not impacted (they can see well enough to learn as expected) – The student does not qualify for any special services. They remain in regular education with no special supports.

Student B – even with glasses, the student can only see words on a page when they are in 24 font or larger. This student qualifies for a 504 plan, and they will receive special accommodations such as all written assignments printed in larger font, and special seating in class.

Student C – Even with glasses and accommodations, the student still can’t see well enough to learn at age expected levels. Therefore, they need special instruction/goals to learn braille and to walk with a cane. This student qualifies for an IEP.

If school staff state that your child does not need an IEP because they do not have any academic goals, they may or may not be correct. Student’s can receive IEP’s for non academic goals such as: organization; social skills/communication; and/or executive functioning, if they have a disability in these areas, and they need these skills to benefit from instruction. Put simply, IEP’s can be for non academic goals, despite the existence of that common misperception.

Measurable Goals/Objectives

MSDE encourages teachers to write “SMART” goals/objectives. SMART is an acronym that stands for:

S Specific and descriptive
M Measurable
A Attainable and relevant
R Realistic and relevant
T Time limited (one year)

While I agree with the concept of making goals and/or objectives specific, measurable and attainable, I don’t think that the acronym “SMART” goes far enough. For example, who determines if a goal/objective is realistic? Given that we want students to make “meaningful progress” (more than a year’s growth in 1 school year), maybe the T should be “Time Sensitive (make the goal as quick as you can, so you can move on to another goal).

When I was a Special Education teacher in Pennsylvania, we taught teachers to write goals/objectives that contained 4 parts. In the article below, I am going to: tell you what the 4 parts are; give sample goals; and explain why I think this goal model leads to much better progress monitoring.

Parts of a measurable goal (or objective) –
– The exact circumstances under which the student’s progress will be tested.
Given 20 three-digit by two-digit multiplication problems and 10 minutes to solve them

Student’s name – self explanatory

Behavior – Passing score
will independently answer 16 or more problems correctly

Criteria – What the student must do to get this goal removed from their IEP
on 4 out of 5 weekly progress monitoring probes.

What this goal tells me is that:
1. Once a week, the student will be assessed on their progress.
2. If the student gets at least 16 problems correct without any help, they passed for the day.
3. If the student passes 4 out of 5 tests in a row, the goal is removed from their IEP

Sample Goals

Given 20 three digit- by two-digit multiplication problems and 10 minutes to solve them, Michael will independently answer 16 or more problems correctly on 4 out of 5 weekly progress monitoring probes

Given a story starter, one minute to plan, and three minutes to write, Michael will write 100 words or more related to the topic on 3 out of 4 weekly probes.

Given 10 word problems from the 4th grade curriculum, Michael will independently identify the relevant and extraneous data needed to solve the equation 100% of the time on 5 weekly progress monitoring probes.

Progress monitoring

In addition to being SMART, these goals have additional advantages including:
1. If progress monitoring says a student mastered a goal, and the parents aren’t seeing that behavior at home, the goal lists the exact “condition” under which the goal was mastered.
2. The weekly results can be graphed. When you connect the dots, if the line is going up, the student is making progress.
3. Weekly scores can be compared, because they were all collected one week apart. Therefore, you are comparing progress one week to progress another week.
4. There is a clear ending point to goals, so they don’t stay in the IEP longer because there is still 2 months left in the school year.
5. Early removal of goals opens more time to work on new goals.

In my experience, the most frequent component missing in Maryland IEP’s is the “Criteria”. Therefore, if you can get teachers to add this to your child’s IEP goals and/or objectibves, you will find that their IEP goals are significantly more measurable.

MSDE Transportation Responses

Summary of a January 2016 memo from MSDE entitled “Frequently asked questions about transportation and children with disabilities”.

Do the regulations for Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), published in the Federal Register on August 14, 2006 address the related service transportation? IDEA defines the related service transportation. In addition, transportation is addressed in a memorandum issued by OSEP entitled, Questions and Answers on Serving Children with Disabilities Eligible for Transportation (November 2009).

What is the definition of the related service transportation? Transportation (Part B) includes– (i)
1. “Travel to and from school and between schools
2. Travel in and around school buildings, and
3. equipment (such as special or adapted buses, lifts, and ramps) if required to provide special transportation for a child with a disability.” (34 CFR §300.34 (c)(16)

How is eligibility for transportation services determined? It is the responsibility of the IEP team, including the parent, to determine eligibility for transportation to assist a child with a disability to benefit from special education and related services. The IEP team should include all personnel necessary to make an informed decision in order to provide safe transportation and meet the individual needs of a child with a disability.

What transportation services should the IEP describe? “The IEP should describe the transportation services required to and from school including participation in nonacademic and extracurricular activities, as appropriate in order to afford equal opportunity for participation in those services and activities to the maximum extent appropriate to meet the needs of that child.” (34 CFR §§300.107 and 300.117)

When should it be determined if a child requires a climate controlled school bus? “Climate-controlled transportation is not explicitly required under the IDEA. However, if an IEP team determines that a child needs climate-controlled transportation to receive special education services, related services, or both, and the child’s IEP specifies that such transportation is necessary, the LSS must provide this special transportation at no cost to the parents.

How is it determined if a school bus attendant is required on the school bus transporting children with disabilities? A determination regarding the assignment of a school bus attendant to assist with the supervision of children with disabilities is a LSS decision. However, it is the responsibility of the IEP team to determine if an individual child requires a bus attendant in order to receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE). This decision should be recorded on the IEP document and include the specific accommodations required for the student for the bus attendant to ensure safe transportation.

Does least restrictive environment (LRE) apply to the transportation of children with disabilities? Yes. (COMAR 13A.05.01.10) states that: “A public agency shall ensure that: The educational placement decision of a student with a disability is: 1. made by the IEP team; made in conformity with the LRE provision of the Act and Regulation .10 of this chapter; 2.determined at least annually; 3. based on the student’s IEP; and as close as possible to the student’s home;

What transportation considerations should be discussed prior to finalizing a nonpublic placement decision? It is necessary to consider the length of ride time and the impact on the child to benefit from FAPE. At the IEP Team meeting special education and related service personnel, parents, and transportation personnel should discuss the impact of the length of ride time on an individual child. The IDEA regulations state: “The child’s placement is as close as possible to the child’s home; and in selecting the LRE, consideration is given to any potential harmful effect on the child or on the quality of services that he or she needs.” (34 CFR §300.116 (d))

What is the maximum amount of time a child may spend on a school bus traveling to and from school? The IDEA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act do not specifically address an appropriate length of ride time that is required. However, Section 504 has provided past remedies in specific instances when a lengthy bus ride may be discriminatory and when the denial of a FAPE has occurred. of discrimination.

Is transportation to and from childcare centers required under the IDEA? The IDEA does not specifically address this matter. Each LSS is encouraged to address this issue and make it known to parents at the IEP meeting the LSS written policies and procedures on this matter. Children with disabilities must be afforded the same opportunities as children without disabilities. Transportation to childcare centers for children within specific geographic boundary areas should apply equally to children with disabilities.

When should pickup and drop-off location be determined? It is appropriate at the time of the IEP meeting to determine bus stop location including pickup and drop-off location such as curb-to-curb service. Neither IDEA nor Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act specifically addresses whether transportation should be from a designated bus stop or from the curbside in front of a child’s home. This decision is left to the IEP team and based upon the individual needs of the child. Each IEP team decision should be made on an individual basis, taking into consideration the child’s cognitive level, emotional stability, physical functioning, and chronological age. Pickup location should not be a unilateral transportation office decision.

When may a child with a disability be suspended from school bus transportation? “If transportation is included in the child’s IEP, a bus suspension must be treated as a suspension and all of the discipline procedures applicable to children with disabilities would apply. An LSS is not required to provide alternative transportation to a child with a disability who has been suspended from transportation for 10 school days or less unless the LSS provides alternative transportation to children without disabilities who have been similarly suspended from bus service.

When should bullying on school buses be addressed? Immediately. Drivers and bus attendants should observe and report bullying behavior on the school bus to LSS designated administrative personnel. Ignored bullying may prevent children with disabilities from receiving a safe ride to and from school. Bullying can constitute a violation by preventing children with disabilities from access to education because of a fear for their safety. Bullying should be addressed consistent with federal and State law as well as written and practiced LSS policies and procedures.

Does FERPA specifically address transportation? All transportation personnel provided personally identifiable student information should be trained regarding FERPA requirements specific to children with disabilities.

Is the LSS required to provide information to school transportation personnel including bus drivers and attendants to ensure that the confidentiality protections of children who are transported are protected? “Each person, including a school bus driver, who collects or uses personally identifiable information concerning a child with a disability, must receive training or instruction about the State’s policies and procedures protecting the confidentiality of such information

What are the requirements to allow a service animal to ride a school bus? The use of service animals on the school bus should take into consideration seating arrangements and location of the animal, emergencies, evacuations and the needs of other students such as allergies. For a child riding a school bus with a service animal, it is good practice to provide an orientation about the animal to the other children and parents and to address questions and concerns prior to initiating services. Positive communication and accurate information will foster receptiveness. Prohibiting a certified service animal to accompany a child on the bus can be illegal under IDEA, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and the ADA. The United States Department of Justice (USDOJ) website at http://www.usdoj.gov/ provides information about service animals as does the ADA website http://www.ada.gov/ and the National Network website at http://adata.org/factsheet/service-animals

Is there a requirement to address sexual harassment on school buses? Yes. Children with disabilities who are intellectually limited or nonverbal may be particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment from other children or school district employees. They may not fully appreciate the inappropriateness of sexually oriented behaviors; they may be unsure how to respond; and they may feel helpless to stop unwelcome conduct. Drivers and attendants should receive training to recognize sexual harassment and take immediate steps outlined in the LSS policies and procedures and federal regulations and guidelines to eliminate any form of sexual harassment. Transporters should assist by bringing concerns immediately to the appropriate personnel to facilitate resolution.

Are children with disabilities required to participate in evacuation drills? Children with disabilities should participate and practice evacuation procedures to the same extent as nondisabled peers. Occupational and physical therapists are excellent resource personnel to assist with the planning for safe evacuation drills. All children with disabilities should be part of practice drills to the maximum extent appropriate.

Are there special considerations that should be addressed by the IEP Team in accordance with the LSS policies and procedures? The following are some of the special considerations that should be addressed by the IEP Team including qualified personnel to make informed decisions: Diastat Administration on School Buses; Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) Orders; EpiPen Use; Extra-Curricular Activity Busing; Field Trip Participation; First Aid Training Of School Bus Drivers And Aides; Medication Transport; Nursing Services; Oxygen Transport; Parent Reimbursement; and Vagus Nerve Stimulator (VNS) Use. This list is not exhaustive. Additional areas may be required to be addressed by an IEP Team on a case-by-case basis. (Transporting Children with Disabilities, 5th Edition, National Association for Pupil Transportation, 2014). When should the need for specialized equipment be addressed? The need for specialized equipment on school buses for children with disabilities should be addressed at the IEP team meeting and documented on the IEP. When specialized equipment is required it must be based on an individual child’s unique needs. It is unacceptable to make decisions about specialized equipment requirements outside of the IEP team meeting.

What is the benefit of providing parents with a contact person to address transportation issues and concerns? It is recommended that at each child’s IEP meeting parents be provided with contact information regarding who should be called in the transportation or special education office based upon the circumstance. In addition, it is essential that parent calls be timely returned in accordance with the LSS policies and procedures.

Choosing the right college

Choosing the right college can make all the difference for a student with a disability. Here is a list of questions you can ask to help narrow down your list of choices.

Office of Disability Support Services

1. How many staff member work in your office?

2. What are their titles and main roles?

3. How many students at the college receive assistance through the office of disability support?

4. What special training and experience do the staff have?

5. How much experience do your staff have working with students of my disability category?

6. As a student, who would be my primary contact person in the office?

Academic Support

7. Will I be assigned an academic advisor?

8. What individual support will I from my academic advisor?

9. Can an advisor meet on a weekly basis with a student to help them stay on track?

10. Is there a Summer Bridge program for students with learning differences?

11. Are study skills classes/organizational classes available, or required?

12. Are there additional services provided to assist freshmen students with their transition? Mentoring Programs?

13. What tutoring services are available? Where and when? What training do the tutors have?

14. What other academic skills support do you offer (Writing Center? Note takers?)

15. Are these supports offered to all students, or just students with disabilities?

16. Are there extra fees for these supports?


17. What are some common accommodations/services for those students like me?

18. Where and when are accommodations offered (i.e. do you take tests in a small setting with reduced distractions)?

19. How are the professors at the college notified about academic accommodations?

20. What provisions are in place in case an issue occurs with receiving accommodations?

Academic reporting/Grades

21. How do students track their grades?

22. Are midterm grades the first reported?

23. Are academic alerts available for the student and support department?

24. Does the academic advisor have access to the student’s grades, and have the ability to reach out to the various departments to assist in support?

Health/Counseling Services/Policies

25. What types of housing accommodations or options are available on campus?

26. Roommate finders for compatibility?

27. Do you coordinate with housing services to instruct/ identify certain needs of students?

28. Do you work closely with a counseling department if a student is experiencing anxiety, or health issues?

29. What health services are available on campus?

30. How many staff members, and are they available full time?

31. What types of community resources are near the college that may be helpful to me? (Medical facilities, psychological services, pharmacies)

32. Are they within walking distance?

Special Considerations/Attendance Policy

33. Have extensions been given to students who need to miss a deadline based on a medical need?

34. If an essay is due, would professors accept it later due to a student being ill, preventing the student from completing the work on time?

35. Are there provisions made for having to miss classes based on the nature of a particular disability or medical condition?

36. Is the attendance policy set by the school, or by each professor?

37. Can the attendance of a student be noted in the accommodations due to medical reasons, for consideration of support?

Substitutions/Academic Rigor

38. Are substitutions available for particular required courses at the college if they are needed based on the specific nature of a disability? (Substitutions for required world language courses, math)

39. How would you describe the academic rigor of the school, and how do your students manage it?

40. Math can be a challenge for some students, what classes do you offer for those students?

41. Do you transfer in community college credits in areas that a student might otherwise find to be a higher level of difficulty?

Department Improvements/Challenges

42. What additional improvements would you like to see for your department?

43. What are the challenges of your department?

44. What new changes do you see ahead for your department?

45. Do you provide information about the graduation rate and or retention rate for students served by the office of disability services?

46. What have you learned from past experience, that helps determine the success of your supported students?

47. What sets your disability services apart from other colleges and/or universities?

48. Why does your college/university offer me the best chance to be successful in school and beyond?

Present Educational Levels

When I was a special education teacher, and I had to start drafting a new IEP, the first section I completed was the Present Educational Levels. That is because, in my humble opinion, the Present Educational Levels section is the most important section of an IEP. The content of this section will determine: Educational goals; necessary accommodations; types of services (speech; OT; etc.); frequency of services; teaching strategies; Extended School Year (ESY) eligibility; and educational placement, to name a few. Therefore, it is essential that appropriate, detailed information be contained within this section of the IEP. It is also essential that the information be written with the student’s daily and substitute teachers in mind. I used to tell my staff, “If you are out sick, and I have to walk into your class and teach for the first time, I should be able to pick up each student’s IEP, and read about what they need to learn, and how they learn best”. I do not want to pick up a student’s IEP, and read about their T score, and why they qualify for services.
For me to effectively explain the point I outlined in the previous paragraph, picture your favorite book (or movie) that later came out with a sequel. Simply put, while the stories are related, each has its own unique script. Put another way, you don’t buy the second book to reread the exact same passages from the first book. If for some reason, you need to refresh your memory on what was said in the first book, you can always reread the part of the first book necessary to refresh your memory. That is because the first book does not disappear from existence after the second book has been published.
The same can be said for the (Re) Evaluation Report, and the IEP. In most cases, the (Re) Evaluation Report is written first (initial book), followed by a new or revised IEP (sequel). Although the two documents are related, in as much as the contents of the IEP are determined by what is in the (Re) Evaluation Report, I do not need to reread paragraphs that were cut and pasted from the (Re) Evaluation Report, into the IEP. If I forget an important point the psychologist made in his/her report, I can reread the (Re) Evaluation Report at any time, because it does not disappear after the IEP has been rewritten. Instead, when I read the IEP, what I am interested in reading is “given the students educational profile (academic strengths and needs), what do they need to learn, and what is the best way (strategies) to teach them”?
This may seem like an overly simple concept. However, I can tell you unequivocally, based upon my over 20 years of experience working in the public education system, special education teachers cut and paste paragraphs from the (Re) Evaluation Report into the IEP most the time. The length of the statement they are copying may vary greatly, but the time saving tendency exists widely throughout the educational system. Therefore, when you are participating in your child’s IEP meeting, and/or reviewing their proposed IEP document, here is a list of suggested information that you might consider being included in the Present Educational Levels.

Present levels of academic achievement – Describe how the student is progressing within the general education curriculum (Reading, math, and writing) in relation to his/her peers and state-approved grade level standards. Include: current instructional levels; description of permanent products and work completion; classroom strategies or interventions applied and their results; and a description of any additional or alternative instructional materials, instructional time or personnel. (e.g., most recent evaluation of the student, results of formative assessments, curriculum based assessments, transition assessments, progress toward current goals)

Present levels of functional performance – Functional performance is related to activities of daily living, such as hygiene, dressing, basic consumer skills, community-based instruction, etc. Functional performance may also be defined as the ability to access public transportation, social/emotional learning skills or behavioral difficulties, and the consideration of personal safety and socially appropriate behavior. Include formal/informal test results that demonstrate current developmental functional levels and strengths and needs. If applicable, the information from a functional behavioral assessment should be included in this section. Information included in this section should include performance data and current skill levels, not just a description of academic and behavioral deficits. If the student has no measurable deficit in this area, the IEP team could write, “the student’s functional performance in all areas is age appropriate”.

Present levels related to current post secondary transition goals (if the student is transition age) – Provide a description of the student’s current Academic Achievement and Functional Performance based on age appropriate vocational assessments related to the student’s targeted post secondary goals (e.g. SATs, interest inventories, vocational evaluations, career surveys, results of formative assessments, curriculum-based assessments, progress toward current goals).

Parental concerns for enhancing the education of the student – A discussion about the parents’ concerns for enhancing their child’s education is to take place during the IEP Team meeting. The results of that discussion are documented in this section of the IEP.

How the student’s disability affects involvement and progress in the general education curriculum – The IEP team must determine, based upon appropriate assessments, how the student will access, be involved in, and make progress in the general education curriculum. Include statements about the student’s progress in the general education curriculum, and what modifications, adaptations, and support services are provided. The information should be clear enough to demonstrate the need for the continuation, elimination, or additional support and services in the student’s IEP. Information in this section will drive the development of the supports and services in the IEP. Reference to the MD Academic Standards may be written in this section.

Strengths – Describe and list what the student does well.

Academic, developmental, and functional needs related to student’s disability – Describe the specific needs of the student related to the student’s disability (don’t describe reading if they only have a math disability) and how the disability may make involvement and progress in the general education curriculum and in all grade level standards challenging. This section will also describe kinds of specialized support and service that are necessary for the student to access and make progress in the general education curriculum in the regular education class.

Social/emotional needs Behaviors that impede learning – When behavior is determined to be a special consideration, the Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA), and all of the ABC data (Behavior of concern; Antecedant that triggers the beghavior; Consequence the student is trying to earn/avoid by demonstrating the behavior; and the positive Consequence a student will work for when trying to eliminate the behavior), should be included here.

All needs included by the IEP team in the Present Educational Levels section must be addressed in the remainder of the IEP.

As previously stated, Information in this section will drive the specifics included in the remainder of the IEP.