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Why I Fought For an IEP v. a 504 (Part 2)

(This is part 2 of a blog post published on August 6, 2018.)


I’m going to pause here in my story to explain the difference between a 504 and an IEP plan.

Below are some very helpful links from that will help you on this journey.

A 504 Plan is a Civil Rights law, provided to us under the 1973 Americans with Disabilities Act.  For those of you unfamiliar with key legislation within our country, the ADA is one of the most robust accessibility laws in our nation.  This provides for wheelchair access ramps, handicapped bathrooms and parking spaces among many other provisions, those are just the ones you’re going to be the most familiar with.  A 504 plan is for ACCOMMODATIONS ONLY.  It is not for services.  As a parent with a child under a 504 plan, the school DOES NOT have to advise you of any changes to the 504 plan and can make any changes they deem necessary without your authorization.  The school also DOES NOT have to include you in meetings.

504 is great if you child only needs accommodations.

The IEP or Individualized Education Plan, is provided to us under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or IDEA.  The IEP is meant for SERVICES AND ACCOMMODATIONS.  The parent has a seat at the table and control over their child’s destiny within their education.

There are 13 qualifications for IDEA and one of them is Specific Learning Disability which dyslexia is.  (Rumor has it the Shaywitz’s are working on a 14th which would specifically say “Dyslexia”.)  Now, if you follow the Drs. Shaywitz, you know (and have probably seen me write about) the fact that saying Specific Learning Disability is akin to a general medical term, like saying infectious disease and that saying Dyslexia is akin to a diagnosis of Strep Throat.  It’s a highly specific disorder where the underlying problem and the evidence-based treatment are both known and validated.

Yes, your child will be classified as Special Education, but purge yourself of all of the stereotypes and images in your head.


Your child has to be taught in a specific way so of course they require special education. There is no short bus, they will not be in a classroom with students suffering from other, more severe disabilities. They will be in a General Education classroom, with a General Education teacher, except for their pull out for dyslexia intervention, which I pray is provided to you by a CALT (Certified Academic Language Therapist) or CALP (Certified Academic Language Practitioner).

You may move back and forth between a 504 and an IEP as the needs of your child dictate, but very few believe this is a smart thing to do.  Once you get the IEP either keep it for the rest of the educational years (K-12), or if you choose to exit the plan, do so knowing you may never get it back again.

If your child is in elementary school, an IEP is likely the best route.  You are likely NOT GOING TO GET PROGRAM FIDELITY UNDER 504, however you can force it in the IEP since IDEA and the Texas Dyslexia Handbook (only if you’re in Texas) support program fidelity.

Program fidelity means using a research based program provided in the recommended setting whether 1:1 or as much as 4:1 depending on the program, which a minimum number of minutes per week (usually 180), preferably taught by a CALT or CALP, but almost no school district is going to provide the CALT / CALP, at least not in the current environment, and hopefully that changes in the future.

I’ve made the distinction here pretty black and white, and I’ve made it seem pretty simple to convert your child from a 504 to an IEP.  Neither is the case.  There’s a LOT MORE to it.  Ideally, it should be black and white, but if it was this simple, all of our dyslexic children would be automatically getting what they need out of the educational system, and we all know that just isn’t happening.

Now remember where we are so far.  When we put our son in public school for 2nd grade they gave him a 504 with a pull out for dyslexia intervention. That pull out didn’t happen as frequently as it should and it didn’t happen at all the last 6 weeks of school. The classes were 30 minutes maybe 3-4 times a week with a group of 4-6 kids. We did private tutoring after hours and all of his gains were purely from that private tutoring, nothing gained at school (though the school tried to take credit).

Our kids are entitled to program fidelity.

(Fidelity v no-fidelity, research v evidence will be discussed in later posts.)

An IEP also has defined goals.

On the 504 they were like “oh, he’s getting pulled out, everything is fine.”

Now, we have specific goals that they must measure to, cannot update without my permission, and must report on with every grading period. He went from 90-120 minutes of instruction (maybe) to 180 minutes of instruction, with part of that being 1:1 which is the most ideal. Failure to meet goals is on them, not my son. If he fails to meet a goal they either defined the wrong goal or didn’t work hard enough to meet it.

For more on this see Endrew F:

So for everyone who has a child getting pulled out for services under a 504, know that 504 is not meant for that, IEPs are.  Texas has been shoving our kids to a 504 to avoid providing to them what they need and are legally entitled to.  The goal piece is huge and they’re liable if they fail to deliver it, but remember that the goals have to be good and real, they can’t be too easy to achieve and they cannot be too hard either.  They have to fit the child, the child’s needs and foster an environment equal to the challenges for a General Education child to thrive.

IEP is a contract, 504 isn’t.  Consider it the difference between me saying I’m going to sell you this widget for $2.00 tomorrow, January 3rd, 2019 versus well, if the sky is blue tomorrow and the chicken in my back yard doesn’t wake me up tomorrow around 6ish, I might sell it to you tomorrow, but it might be next month and I don’t know the price yet.

Here’s a catch.  Our school system in Texas is not designed for dyslexia to fall under the IEP, but under 504.  What this means is that the knowledge base, the dyslexia intervention teachers in your school, are all General Education teachers, reporting to the district heads of dyslexia, and they teach your children under the 504 umbrella.  The Special Education departments across the state are not staffed, nor are they trained, for dyslexia intervention.

Here’s another catch.  The 504 qualification is typically a very short timeline with RTI generally being used in the mean time.  The IEP qualification timeline is quite long.  IF you do not already have a 504 plan in place, and you make the request for the FIE (Full Individual Evaluation), your child will not receive services (typically speaking) until that evaluation and review period plays out.  This means your child can go as long as an entire school semester, if not longer, before intervention begins.  Once you start the IEP process, the general education dyslexia intervention teachers will not get involved, unless the 504 already exists.

Last lovely little tidbit.  IDEA DOES NOT DIFFERENTIATE WHO CAN TEACH YOUR CHILD.  It does NOT say that because your child is special education, that a general education teacher cannot be their teacher, quite the contrary.  IDEA is vague here on purpose.  So just because your dyslexic child has an IEP does not mean their remediation has to be via a Special Education teacher.  I did a lot of research on this particular piece and hung my hat on this when marching into my son’s ARD meeting.

However, I’m not trying to sell anything here so if you’re happy with the 504 and you believe your child is getting everything they need and they’re pushing that child to read on grade level WITH COMPREHENSION and not fall farther behind, well then….

Now that the explanation is out of the way, back to my story.

(If you’re in Texas you need to download and read the newly published 2018 revised version of the Texas Dyslexia Handbook to further understand your rights for dyslexia within the ISDs.  There is still some ambiguity and some things that still need to change, but for now, this is the best resource.)

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