Dyslexia: the Responsibility of Special Education or 504?
For many reasons, parents need to understand what “umbrella of responsibility” they want their child’s dyslexia diagnosis to be managed under. In many states and school districts, this is not a consistent policy, but it is a difference that can have huge implications to your family. It is also not a choice that it APPEARS parents can make. Families are not presented with a menu of their preferred options on how and where the school will handle dyslexia evaluation, intervention, and management issues.
I am here to tell you that there is only one answer and route you want to take your child down, and that is the Special Education route. Why Dyslexia Coverage Under SPED and Not 504? YOURS and YOUR CHILD’s RIGHTS – that’s why. Unlike many dyslexia specific state laws, both Special Education and 504 are FEDERAL laws so regardless of what state you reside in, this discussion applies to YOU!
For many of you, I need to backup and explain the difference between Special Education and 504.
Considering we all did not just climb out from under a rock, I will go under the assumption that we all know what Special Education is. But there are two huge things points that I must make which are completely unrelated. The first is that Special Education is nothing to fear. For those of us who are 40 or older, Special Ed is no longer the “short bus” of children isolated in their own wing of the school where all disabilities from Down Syndrome to Learning Disabled kids were all housed in the same classroom. I hate to speak so crudely since this stigma was created by a fowl mishandling of students once upon a time. But the concern exists for way too many parents I speak with daily. When your child is serviced under Special Education, there is no enormous visual difference between their programming and the programming of students in General Education. Instead, students are mainstreamed and receive the specialized attention and supports they need to find their true potential.
The second huge point is that all students under the Special Education umbrella are protected under this WONDERFUL statute called the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) which dates back to 1975. The Cliffs Notes on the Individuals with Disabilities Act is that it is a law that makes available a free appropriate public education to all children with disabilities. It is centered around parent rights which was congress’s intent with this law. It dictates that parents should be legally involved in decisions about their child with a disability in public school!! After all, you ARE the person who knows your child best!
However, some kids with special needs do not receive services under IDEA but are served under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Section 504, a civil rights law, prohibits discrimination on the basis of disabling conditions by programs and activities receiving or
benefiting from federal financial assistance. The way that I often describe who falls under the 504 umbrella are all students who have “hidden disabilities” not impacting their intelligence such as ADD/ADHD where they struggle with the focus needed to absorb all classroom learning, chronic illness such as diabetes or Tourette’s Syndrome where they must miss more school, or a learning disability where they struggle to truly demonstrate their knowledge. Some characterize it more as a handicapping condition where the child has a physical or mental impairment, but their learning isn’t impaired. We want to be able to protect all these kids Civil Rights, RIGHT??
See how it becomes a tad grey for many kids? See how we really could argue many situations into both categories? Is it a disability or is a handicapping condition? It’s kind of a blurry line that I bet a great lawyer could argue both ways. Let’s consider this for dyslexia: On one hand, dyslexia IS technically a Specific Learning Disability, which is a DISABILITY where there is an unexplained difference between their intellectual ability and their performance. On the other hand, many districts manage it as one of these “hidden ailments” where they say that their intelligence is still in tact but they just can’t demonstrate their learning adequately.
This is the part of the blog where I could go on and on about all the extremely specific differences in both laws, but that it irrelevant, because we are here to talk about what is PROVEN to be the best course of action that allows CHILDREN and PARENTS the most RIGHTS! I’d say that it the most important part to focus on at the current moment.
The MAIN difference between whether we want your child’s dyslexia to be covered under Section 504 or Special Education revolved exclusively under one acronym: IDEA. Remember that Special Education law I mentioned before focusing mainly under parent rights? Do not take my word for it! The US Department of Education agrees with me and put a few state’s education agencies under review back in 2018 for NOT placing dyslexia and a few other disorders under Special Education. I will not name any names since my state was one of them. But is it still happening rampantly? You better bet your bottom dollar it is!!
So, lets line out some of the specific parent rights you are bypassing when you allow the school to take your student down the 504 path:
– Your right to be present during all meetings pertaining to your child’s programming
– Your right to help make all decisions related to your child’s intervention and educational planning
– Actual specific, federally mandated timelines for processing evaluations, implementation of programming, etc
– Your right to disagree with school’s in house evaluations and receive a FREE third party opinion
– An Individual Education Plan which is enforceable that spells out the exact amount of time per week specialized instruction will occur for your child
– Your child’s rights to assistive technology to foster success
– Your right to DISAGREE and have a leg to stand on to fight for what is right for your child
You say you already tested and qualified for dyslexia under 504? No worries!! Go back and request a Full Individual Evaluation (FIE) under Special Education. By law, they CAN NOT deny this request. By the way, under 504, if the school doesn’t support your concern, they do not have to complete the evaluation! Once your child is admitted to Special Education, any decision made for your child will be made with you present in the room.
And isn’t that the way it SHOULD be? After all, you made this amazing specimen and you have responsibility under the law for him or her. You care about that child more than any individual found in that school district, and you will ALWAYS know what is best for them and be their loudest advocate. Shouldn’t you be an active part of their educational programming??