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15 Common IEP and 504 questions, answered

15 Common IEP and 504 questions, answered

Updated: April 2, 2024 · 15 Minute Read

Amy Gong

Reviewed by:

Amy Gong, Neurodiversity Advocate

Highlights

  • All behavior is communication. Even intentional misbehavior. You can request an FBA for more support.
  • Schools don’t have the power to diagnose! They can only tell you their opinion, how they think your child’s disability affects their education.
  • Request facilitation and/or mediation from the state if you don’t feel like things are being done for your child. Keep fighting.
  • Document everything and know your rights; this is the most important tip.

IEP and 504 questions can be confusing to navigate. Based on common questions parents have had in the past, we worked with experts to get answers!

 

15 Common IEP and 504 questions

 

1. The school keeps calling me to pick up my child — are they allowed to do that?

Yes and no. This is what we sometimes call “off the books suspensions.” Under IDEA laws, the school is allowed to send your child home up to 10 days without taking any action on their part. At the 10 day mark, they are required to hold a meeting to discuss what’s going on. The school should not just be sending your child home whenever there’s an issue. The best thing for you to do in this situation is keep a record of every time you’ve been asked to pick up your child and why. Ask them to write it up. On the 10th time, call for an IEP meeting to discuss what’s causing the issues. If they’re sending your child home due to behavior, this would be a manifest determination meeting, which we’ll talk about more in the next section. Remember, it’s their job to figure out how to help your child access a free and appropriate public education. If you keep voluntarily picking up your child from school every time staff calls, you may never reach that 10 day mark. So make the school write it up!

 

2. My child keeps getting in trouble for behavior at school — what do I do?

“All behavior is communication. Even intentional misbehavior,” says parent advocate Dawn Millhouse. You might be wondering what is your child trying to communicate at school. Dawn advises that “this is the school’s job to figure out. Not yours. They are the professionals and they can hire a behaviorist to figure it out if they don’t have someone on staff. In Ohio, we have State Support Teams that have behaviorists on staff that their school can call to do the FBA. I’m pretty sure that’s also part of the federal structure. Contact the state if things aren’t getting better. That gets everyone’s attention.”

 

When your child is getting “in trouble” for “behavior” at school, you need to know your child’s rights. You’ll want to make sure there’s a manifest determination meeting. This meeting should be with the IEP team (NOT the disciplinary team) and must happen immediately. The goal is to figure out if your child’s “behavior problems” are due to their disability. If the behavior is decided to be based on your child’s disability, then the school will have to do a Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) and create a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) to resolve the behavior that’s keeping your child from learning. If a BIP is already in place, the school should work to fix whatever the issue is and return the child to their current placement (unless you or the school decide a different placement would be better.)

 

If the IEP team decides that the “misbehavior” was caused by not following the IEP (like the student being denied access to a break when they needed one), then the school has to fix this issue immediately so your child can continue with their education. If the IEP team decides that your child’s behavior was not due to their disability or the IEP not being followed, then they are legally allowed to discipline your child the same as a non-disabled student in similar circumstances. It’s best to bring along a special education advocate or attorney to a manifest determination meeting, because schools commonly disagree with parents. Learn more about IEP meetings and what should and shouldn’t be in an IEP.

 

3. My child is being aggressive at school — how do I handle this?

It’s important to know that behavior is communication, and if your child is becoming aggressive at school, that’s a sign of dysregulation, which means their needs are not being met. All the same rules apply for this question as the previous one — you’ll want to make sure your child immediately gets a manifestation determination meeting and that the school properly addresses what’s causing your child’s aggressive behavior. An FBA should be done whenever a child is continually struggling with behavior. Sometimes schools will push that off. But you can request an FBA just like you request an evaluation. It’s possible that the school may not agree with you on why your child is becoming aggressive (they may not want to accept responsibility). So it’s best to bring a parent advocate, special education attorney, or special education advocate with you to the meeting.

 

4. My child hit someone at school during a meltdown, and now they’re in trouble — what do I do?

If your child hit someone during a meltdown, that’s definitely due to their disability. However, the school may not agree — that’s where having an advocate or special education attorney will help. The school should not be taking traditional disciplinary action against your child unless it is found through the manifestation determination meeting that their “misbehavior” was really misbehavior (not due to their disability or the IEP). The only exceptions to this rule are when there are weapons or drugs involved, or if your child has seriously injured someone. Even if your child’s behavior is determined not to be caused by their disability, they still have to provide educational services. They can move your child to a different school, but that would be at the district’s expense (services, transportation, everything). They cannot kick out your child/expel them.

 

“If a child hurts someone or themselves during a meltdown, parents need to demand a meeting to discuss what happened with as little emotion as possible,” Dawn urges. “Also, the IEP has a section that talks about teacher support needs that can be used to make sure the staff has appropriate training. They can consult with the behaviorist. And it can be put into writing exactly how often in the IEP.” She says parents miss out on added services and supports for their children because they just haven’t been informed of their rights, adding, “Most parents have no idea that’s there. Which is why it really goes back to parents needing to know their rights, or consult with someone who does. And it’s important to know that federal law provides advocates at the state’s expense for parents to use. Again it’s usually the best kept secret in the land. You can hire a lawyer but you don’t have to.” Dawn also suggests, “Facilitation and mediation are great tools when you feel like schools are giving you the runaround.”

 

5. Can the school arrest my child if they hit someone during a meltdown?

During a meltdown or tantrum, your child is not in control of their mind or body. This is made more challenging by the reality that some autistic/neurodivergent kids feel things stronger, have more sensitivities, and less impulse control than other kids their same age. Dawn says, “Students are not supposed to be punished for their disabilities, so we have a manifestation determination meeting to decide as a team if the behavior was a manifestation of their disability.” So you want to make sure you request that manifest determination meeting! But what if law enforcement gets involved? According to Dawn, “What I’ve seen is that the school isn’t pressing charges but rather the officer at the school is, and they can circumvent the manifestation meeting.” If your child has a meltdown at school and hurts someone, here’s what she says to do: “Request a manifestation meeting. Judges in my area rarely sentence kids to “jail” time. But if the team decides that the behavior is a manifestation of the student’s disability, then there should be a behavioral plan (BIP) put in place. Parents can take the meeting results to court with them to show the judge that this wasn’t just an act of violence. This was a meltdown that was out of the child’s control.” If you’re uncomfortable or overwhelmed by dealing with the courts, it may be helpful to hire an attorney to help you with this process.

 

6. Why is the school saying my child isn’t autistic?

“The school isn’t saying that your child doesn’t have autism. They are saying that their autism isn’t keeping them from accessing the curriculum and that they don’t require specialized instruction to overcome that barrier,” Dawn clarifies. As we mentioned in a previous section, the school has their own evaluation process to figure out if your child needs accommodations in order to get an equal education. While the school should take your child’s formal/medical diagnosis into account, they’re really just looking at academics — if your child will be able to learn the general curriculum or if they need extra help. Some parents have been told by the school that their child is autistic, only to have that label taken away. Others have been told by schools their child “isn’t autistic” or “isn’t autistic enough” to receive supports. Schools don’t always agree with what you know to be true for your child. “To advocate for your child,” Dawn says, “Keep notes to support your opinion. Every time the teacher says your child did this or didn’t do that, grades, missing assignments, behavior, social skills, executive function skills — keep it all written down somewhere so you can bring it up later to support what you’re requesting.” Please know that the school does NOT have the authority to diagnose or remove a diagnosis — their opinion is not the final say and doesn’t have bearing outside of school. Having a formal diagnosis can be important for this reason.

 

7. Should I just pull my child out of public school?

This depends on your individual circumstances. For some kids, homeschooling, a private school or charter school may be the right fit. Many families have found that a specialized school for disabled kids or kids with thinking and learning differences was the best route. But pulling your child out of school or switching schools because the school is not meeting your child’s needs or taking your concerns seriously is not always the best game plan. “The best thing a parent can do is give up and take the autism scholarship. Did you hear that?!? It’s the best thing they can do for the school. Because the school gets off easy,” Dawn shares. “Now if there is a great program in your area, take the scholarship. I am definitely not saying the scholarship is a bad thing. But most places have limited options for the scholarship.” The school is required by law to give your child a free, appropriate, public education — even if that means paying for them to go somewhere else. Dawn addresses this, saying, “If a school cannot handle a child’s behavior, THEY have to pay for them to go somewhere else…EVERYTHING! All their therapies, their special education services, transportation. Everything. It’s usually more than the scholarship.” So if you pull your child out of school voluntarily, the school is off the hook, and you’re stuck with the expense. “Parents usually care more about their child’s safety and well-being than fighting for what they deserve, and I totally get that,” Dawn sympathizes. “But don’t give up too easily. Request facilitation and/or mediation from the state if you don’t feel like things are being done for your child. Keep fighting.”

 

8. My child’s teacher wants me to get them to focus more in class — how do I do that?

It’s possible your child’s teacher’s expectations are too high. Preschool and elementary aged kids have shorter attention spans, are more impulsive, and super high energy. It’s impossible to expect a child to sit perfectly still for several minutes or hours, when their brains are still growing and developing! Even older autistic and neurodivergent kids struggle with impulsivity and focus. Your child’s teacher should put a plan in place to help your child gradually focus for longer periods of time. “If a preschooler is having trouble sitting in class, the teacher needs to establish a positive behavior plan that works on building the skills,” says Dawn. “That can look like a lot of things. It should start with something like ‘During circle time, given no more than 3 verbal prompts, student will sit and participate for 7 minutes 3 out of 4 days.’ There should be star charts and the child should be given rewards. They can then either increase the time or decrease the cues. Visual schedules and first-then cards can be used to help the child control their body and mind.” It’s important to know that “good learning” looks different for everyone — your child may just learn better while fidgeting and moving. “It’s a work in progress,” Dawn adds. “Students aren’t hard to figure out. We just need to put in a little effort.”

 

9. My child is a teenager now — what changes should I look out for on their IEP?

States have a requirement for transition planning to be added to a student’s IEP, to help make the transition to adulthood (college, work, independent living, etc.) a little easier. The age this starts varies from state to state, but it should be 14 or 16 years old. You want to advocate for that transition planning to start at 14, regardless of the state requirement. Schools don’t always bring up this change automatically, so you want to make sure you’re pushing for that change before your child’s 14th birthday. For example, if you have an IEP meeting in September but your child doesn’t turn 14 until May, still advocate for that change at the September meeting. Don’t wait — developing skills needed for independent living, career, and college can take longer for neurodivergent kids. You want to start as soon as possible (including at home). We talk more about adulthood transitions in our customizable Action Plan.

 

10. I’m already stressed about next year’s IEP — what should I ask for?

“The best thing parents can do is have a clear and specific plan for the future,” Dawn encourages. “Future planning is where parents can voice their long range goals for their child and have it part of the permanent record so to speak.” Start thinking about your child’s life, what you envision for them (and what they envision for themselves) in the next few years. Write that down. “If you have a preschooler, you don’t have to say that they will go to Harvard and study pre med,” she clarifies. “It can be that you would like to increase their ability to tolerate change in plans or make friends, potty training, food tolerance. Whatever you would like to see happen in the next 1–5 years.” Think about what barriers might exist for them to get there. Think about this year: what’s worked and what hasn’t? Make those notes while they’re fresh in your mind. This is how you can shape your child’s IEP goals for next year. Remember to include your child and prioritize their voice as much as possible.

 

“Obviously, at age 14, transition planning becomes more the focus,” Dawn adds. “Do you plan on them going to college or getting a job or going into job training? Will they live in the community independently or with supports? What kinds of barriers do you see to meeting those goals? That’s where you can start creating transition activities. For my son,” she shares, “A barrier to living in the community is his ability to handle money and plan for expenses/costs so he is working on budgeting at school and with his ISP (independent service provider from the county Developmental Disability Services). A barrier for working was being able to get work independently and remembering all the steps of a task. So he is working at the school for one period a day and developing those skills.” Of course, it all depends on your individual child. “What academic goals do you have?” says Dawn. “For some, it’s improving their reading and writing, but for some, it might be reading and understanding safety signs in the community.”

 

11. The school wants to move my child to the next grade, but I don’t agree — can they promote my child without my permission?

Every school district has their own rules about promotion and retention. “IDEA doesn’t specifically address the issue of retention or promotion, so this is really left to the states, and in most cases the school based team,” Dawn clears up. “In Ohio, teams can exempt students from the consequences of not passing the third grade reading guarantee. If they didn’t, my son might have been a 15 year 3rd grader.” In some cases, yes, they can promote or retain (hold back) your child a grade level without your permission. “With that said,” she adds, “IDEA says that students can stay in school until they are 21. So if a parent wants a student to repeat a grade, they certainly can request it.”. If you are concerned about it and really think your child needs another year, you’ll have to advocate for it and provide a strong case for why you think they should repeat the grade. “I would go into the meeting armed with as much data as possible,” Dawn encourages. “What are you hoping to gain from an extra year of grade X?” She shares, “We did an extra year of preschool because my son’s birthday is in September and then we did an extra year of kindergarten because the first year was a trainwreck. So my son is an 18 year junior. Maturity, behavior, and size were our concerns at the time, but it gave him a chance to work with some amazing teachers for an extra year, so that was a bonus. Adding, “It’s not a placement issue, so parents really have to work with the team to reach an agreement.”

 

12. The school wants to reduce my child’s services — can they do that?

Sometimes schools will move to reduce your child’s services, usually when they think your child is improving and doesn’t need them anymore. You’ll have to advocate for your child to keep their IEP services from being reduced or removed. Here are some common excuses schools make and how to convince them not to take away the services your child needs.

 

13. If I send my child to private school, will they still have an IEP?

Private schools aren’t required to provide IEPs, and usually don’t offer the same scope of special education services as public schools. Your state may provide you a voucher to use for your child to attend a private or charter school if public school isn’t working out. If you decide to go this route, it’s important to know the differences between special education in public and private schools, and your child’s rights.

 

14. What happens to my child’s IEP if they switch schools?

That depends on if you’re moving out of state or staying in your same school district. If you plan to send your child to a different school in the same district, their IEP won’t change. If you send them to a school out of state or in a different school district, your child might need a new IEP. IEPs are used pretty much nationwide, but they can vary from state to state and district to district. Learn more about IEPs and switching schools.

 

15. Where can I find someone to help me understand all this stuff?

Well, you’re off to a pretty good start by reading this article! But if you need some hands-on help, you can visit or call your local parent hub to meet with a free, trained parent advocate. You can also search for special education advocates and attorneys using the Beaming Directory.

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