IEP/504 Meetings of Days Gone By

What’s the opposite of nostalgia? I’m pretty sure I experienced it yesterday when I came across some 10-year-old old paperwork pertaining to school evaluations for my son. My brilliant, sweet boy, who was ten years old at the time.

I have embarked on a project to purge and organized the piles of paperwork that have been accumulating around my house for, oh, ten years. It’s slow going because I keep stopping to read things. For instance a file full of print-outs I made of email communications with school personnel.

For context, my son, M, has auditory processing difficulties. His brain doesn’t filter sounds very well. We started the evaluation process thinking he would have an IEP (individualized education plan), but he didn’t actually need changes in the curriculum, only changes to ensure him equal access to the curriculum. So we ended up with what’s called a 504 plan under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

I had almost managed to forget the constant vigilance and stress involved in having a child in school under these circumstances. Many teachers and school staff were wonderful and amazing. But many others were not. I experienced a fair amount of lip service, some head patting, some gaslighting, and whole lot of hoop jumping on my part. I’m glad that experience is behind me.

The following is one of the emails I re-discovered, and typical of the kinds of things I found myself writing a lot in those days.

Hi Ms. K & Ms. L,

As always, thanks for all of your time and effort on behalf of M. I want to address two things:

1. Regarding the parent input statement I wrote to be included with all evaluation reports: I will make multiple copies for each of you so it can be attached to every printed copy of the report, rather than only in a computer somewhere. I understand the school district’s budget is extremely tight, but it is a part of the report that should be available with every copy. I will supply the paper and ink for that to happen. (I had been told that, of course I could supply a parent input statement to be added to teacher observations and everything else in the reports. But when I showed up for the first meeting, the statement I had emailed was not included and everyone seemed to think it was eccentric of me to believe it would be added to the actual report, which was already using so much paper. I was assured the email had been saved and that my painstakingly created contribution was “in the computer.”)

2. I am also attaching here a copy of more observations I have made including my classroom observations from last May. I sent these once, but was told they couldn’t be included in the report at that time because they happened after the date of the evaluation meeting. I’m sorry I did not bring this to yesterday’s meeting, but did not realize they could now be included until I read through the report and saw mention of staff observations that had occurred from the same time period. Now that I know the door is open again, I’m sending them. (If this isn’t obvious, someone lied to me about why they *couldn’t* put my classroom observations into the report. And I caught them in the lie.) This document should also be attached to all copies of M’s evaluation reports. In addition to attaching it here, I will supply multiple paper copies as a donation to keep district expenses low. 

Best regards,


If any parents currently going through the process happen to read this, please know you are not alone. You are allowed to have your voice heard. Don’t let them gaslight you or shut you up. Keep speaking the truth for your child. You will find advocates and allies within the system, though it can sometimes take a little while to figure out who they are. Work on building relationships with those folks. My son’s grade school speech therapist and his junior high counselor, in particular, were real angels who had his back.

That said, I look back on this and wonder about families who don’t have the resources I did. We’ve never been wealthy, but I could at least afford paper and toner. And this was before I started my sandwich generation gig, so I could carve out the time. How many kids fall into the cracks because their parents don’t have the resources or time or knowledge to stay on top of things?

I’m happy to say my son made it through and is now a brilliant, sweet 20-year-old who does what he can to make the world a better place. He made it through with his kindness and compassion intact, which is what I most wanted for him.


Highway 504: Next Leg of the Journey

My son starts 9th grade tomorrow, and my daughter begins community college classes next week. I have many feels (as my daughter would say.) I have started and deleted a couple of blog posts. There are so many different things on my mind and I can’t seem to settle on one as a focus. Finally, I decided to give a piece of advice to parents of kids who have IEPs or 504 plans.

My son has a 504 plan due to auditory processing difficulties. The process of diagnosis, plan development and interaction with various school staff will make for a book some day when I have time to write it. Right now, I’d like to share one of the most important things I’ve learned through hard experience.

Get. It. In. Writing.

Let me put that another way for emphasis: GET IT IN WRITING!

When you’re sitting by yourself as your child’s sole representative in an IEP or 504 meeting, it can be hard to steel your nerve and speak up. You want to seem reasonable. You want these people to like you and your child. But when a staff member says a specific item doesn’t need to be written into the plan “because it’s a service we can offer to any child,” this means they’re not going to do it. Unless you get in in writing and they’re legally obligated to. If it’s something your child needs, don’t worry that they’ll call you a helicopter parent or that they’ll think you’re too demanding, or not nice. Be polite, of course, but also firm that you want it in writing. If it’s something that’s no problem to offer, then why can’t they put it in writing?

My hard experience came with the verbal promise that a teacher would be assigned in my son’s eighth-grade year to go over his agenda with him each day to make sure he knew what his homework assignments were. This has been something that nearly drove me mad in his middle school years – trying to help him figure out what homework he needed to do and whether he’d done it. Often the assignments are told to the students at the end of class when everyone is packing everything away, creating lots of distracting noise – noise my son can’t filter, so he needs another way to know what’s going on. Some teachers were great about communicating and posting everything on-line. I love them. Others posted almost nothing. One teacher repeatedly posted things on-line and then changed the instructions verbally in class, so my son was spending time working on stuff that got him no class credit. I was literally in tears a couple of times from the frustration.

So when the junior high counselor sat in our 504 meeting and said, “We can designate a teacher to collate his assignments and check in with him each day to make sure he knows what they are and whether they’re getting done,” I felt as if I’d been handed a winning lottery ticket. I saw hours of work and worry lifting from my shoulders. When the counselor asked if it was something I’d like them to do, I didn’t hesitate. I said, “Yes, let’s put it in the plan.”

Hmmm…I should have been more suspicious when a different school staff member jumped in with “We don’t even have to put it in writing because…(chorus) it’s a service we can offer to any child.” They assured me they did it for lots of students and they’d do it for my son. They’d let me know if he was getting behind.

The school year started, and it was such a relief not to have to be an inadequately informed micro-manager any more. I kept thinking, “I really can let go of some things. It’s okay. I don’t have to do *everything.* Sometimes I really can leave it to the people who get paid to do it.”  I did ask my kid sometimes if he knew what he was supposed to be doing, and he’d say “I’m pretty sure I do.”  I did see him doing homework. I was tempted to check in at the school and ask, but didn’t want to be called names, you know, like “helicopter mom.” I figured I hadn’t heard anything and they’d let me know if he was behind.

Then, about four weeks into the year, I casually asked him which teacher was doing the homework check for him. And he was all like “What are you talking about?”

“You know, they said they’d assign a teacher to check in with you every day whether you know what your homework is from all the classes and whether you’re doing it?” I prompted.

Nope, nobody was doing anything like that. It hadn’t been done once. So I went to his 504 case manager (one of the school counselors) and asked what was up. And she was all doe-eyed innocence, like “We do that for some students, but it’s not in his plan anywhere.”

And I was all like “But you guys promised.”

And she was all like, “He does have all sorts of accommodations. I just don’t see that one written down in the plan anywhere.”

And then I realized the verbal promise wasn’t worth the paper it was written on. And the “all sorts of accommodations” remark? Intended to deflect attention away from the issue of them breaking a promise by making me feel bad about being overly demanding. Suddenly the “service we can offer to any student” had been transformed into a request for the sun and the moon. I haven’t asked for the sun nor the moon, I’m here to tell you. I’m starting to think maybe I should.

To get on with the story –  I checked in with all of his teachers and discovered he was missing at least some work in every single class, a significant amount in a couple of classes. And then I had to negotiate terms of catching up.  The process of catching up consumed every evening and weekend of our lives for the next month or so. And then I was back to sitting down next to him every afternoon with his school binders and the computer logged in to his school account, trying to help him figure it all out.

I have since talked to enough parents in similar situations to find out empty promises are distressingly common. I don’t want to paint with a broad brush, because we’ve dealt with some truly wonderful teachers over the years. But there are a few school personnel who, with no intention of following through, will promise almost anything in a meeting (verbally) simply to get you to stop talking about it.

This year, at least, I’m not lulled into a false complacency. My son was doing a better job by the end of the school year last year of knowing how to get the information he needed on his own, and I hope he’ll continue to improve and move toward independence this year. But I know I need to be right in there right away to help him get off to a successful start. At least this year I know.

One more point. I’ve decided the use of terms such as “helicopter parent” is nothing more than an attempt to control parents through humiliation. Keep us in our place. I’m not falling for it any more. I’m doing the best I can to help my kids grow into independent adults. But even independent adults sometimes need advocates. I’m going to do what I believe is best, without being cowed by the fear of a label.

And I’m getting all promises in writing.