Understanding 504 & IEP for Students with Disabilities in Public Schools

By Lara Hruska JD MSW MSEd, Founding Attorney at Cedar Law PLLC

Research suggests that around 1/3 of youth in foster care meet the criterion for disability, ranging from minor developmental delays to significant physical and mental impairments (Children's Rights, 2006). These youth have poorer academic outcomes and are more at risk for physical, emotional, cognitive and developmental impairments than the general population.

Students with disabilities can qualify for services in public schools in the form of "504 plans" and/or "Individualized Education Plans (IEPs)". Each form of programming and educational placement comes with its own eligibility criteria and procedural safeguards. When families and schools disagree on programming and placement, there are several different dispute resolution mechanisms for families and their providers to access on behalf of students with disabilities.

This course intends to provide mental health professional with a working understanding of the difference between disability services eligibility under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 versus special education eligibility under the Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and corresponding Washington state law. Furthermore, we will address how to advocate for appropriate placement and programming on behalf of students, including those individuals with more complicated psycho-educational profiles such as executive functioning delays, autism, or social-emotional and behavioral issues.

In a discussion group format, we will consider together how these disability services apply to the specific needs of foster youth and their families.