IEP & Section 504 Team Meetings…and the Law by Miriam Kurtzig Freedman


IEP & Section 504 Team Meetings…and the Law by Miriam Kurtzig Freedman joins her book on Grading, Reporting, Graduating… and the law as must-haves for your school’s special education library. Both are quick reads and provide educators and parents with all the need to know. Principals should put a few copies in the faculty room and parent support groups should have some for parents to borrow.

Introduction: You’re kidding! Another law book for educators and parents!

  • The goal is to help educators and parents conduct meetings that are legal and efficient and build positive and trusting relationships as they get the job done. All of the relevant legislation is considered here in a way that anyone should be able to understand. This just deals with the law and Supreme Court decisions, not politics or pedagogy. It also does not weigh in on whether the law is good or bad. IEP’s are developed for students with disabilities so they can receive a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is an anti-discrimination law that requires schools to provide eligible students with disabilities the same opportunities as their average peers. Written 504 plans aren’t legally mandated, but they are considered a best practice.

What is the purpose of an IEP team meeting?

  • The purpose is to develop a plan that provides a FAPE for the student as it offers the parents the opportunity to participate in a meaningful manner. They must be provided for students whose circumstances adversely impact their educational performance. It’s the school’s job to identify these students, although parents can bring it to the school’s attention. Appropriate here means that the plan is calculated to help the child make progress and receive educational benefits in light of their circumstances. It should strive to close the gap between their current performance and their potential. It need not close the gap between students and their age-level peers. IEPs are about learning, not passing.
  • The plan should also be provided in the least restrictive environment (LRE), which usually means a regular classroom. The plan needs to include the child’s present levels of academic achievement and functional performance along with appropriate measurable goals that will demonstrate progress (evidence). Slow progress and repetition of goals from year to year are legal. That doesn’t mean that goals shouldn’t be ambitious. Some states define education to include emotional, social, behavioral, and physical needs.

What is the purpose of a 504 team meeting?

  • These plans are designed to provide eligible students with disabilities the same opportunity to access, participate, and learn as their nondisabled peers. They often include accommodations, services, therapies, and even placements. They provide an equal opportunity while IEPs provide benefits.

Similarities between IEP and 504 meetings

  • 1. They require that you provide what is needed, no more and no less. If the plan offers more it must be provided and may have unwanted side effects. 2. They are developed by teams, not individuals. Members need to discuss, reflect, and think, but voting should not occur. 3. If the team can’t reach consensus the school representative makes the call. 4. They aim to provide what the child needs, not what the parent wants even if they have a doctor’s prescription. 5. The plans belong to the child. If the parents dispute it they can seek due process. 6. The educators are the experts while the parent provides input about the child (WHO). Teachers know WHAT they teach and they know something about the child (WHO) as well. As long as schools have cogent explanations, courts generally defer to their judgment rather than the parents or third party experts that parents hire.
  • 7. Team members need to know how to include the child appropriately. They should be aware if they are fundamentally altering any aspect of a program of study. Accommodations provide access without fundamentally altering the standards or expectations. Modifications provide access, but they also lower standards and expectations. For more on this see Grading, Reporting, Graduating…and the Law. You need not include standard classroom practices provided to all students, but it’s a good idea to include them. 8. Avoid providing more than the child needs such as overuse of 1:1 aides, inflated grades, or too many adaptations. They are often used to make parents happy. Schools are not required to hold meetings simply because parents want one. 9. Parent consent for IEP meetings must be voluntary, informed (plain language), written, and revocable. 504 plans do not need parental consent. 10. Educators need to avoid jargon and speak simply. There are samples here.

Differences between IEP and 504 meetings

  • The law mandates who will attend IEP meetings, when the team needs to meet, and how it should proceed. For 504 meetings the district develops its own policies and practices.

IEP team meetings: Who, when, where, why, how

  • Who: Parent(s), at least one regular education teacher, at least one special education teacher, the district’s representative, an individual who can interpret the instructional implications of evaluation results (Doug: It was the school psychologist for my meetings.), others with knowledge or special expertise, and whenever appropriate, the child. The district representative must be knowledgable about special education, general education, and the district’s available resources. The district must make a serious effort to get parents to the meeting. Just sending letters and leaving voice messages aren’t enough. Some members may be excused, but they must submit written input to parents. IEPs can be amended without meeting as long as the district and parent agree and it’s not the annual meeting.
  • Goals on IEPs need to be specific, measurable, contain Action words, be realistic, and be time-specific. The first letters spell SMART. It is vital that good baseline information is available for the child at the start of the meeting. The team also needs evidence that the program they propose works. (evidence-based) Miriam suggests a pre-team huddle prior to starting the meeting with the parent to review available data. (Doug: I never did this as the meetings were already too long.) Team members need to have an open mind, but not an empty mind. Making decisions prior to a meeting has been found to be a denial of FAPE by the courts. If the school and parent disagree, the student “stays-put” in the last agreed-upon placement until the conflict is resolved.

Section 504 team meetings

  • Written plans are not required, but you should have them. Standards should not be lowered so use accommodations, not modifications. 504 students have an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities and they need accommodations as a result. This meeting must determine if the child needs a 504 plan. Plans can be implemented without parent acceptance, which means there are no stay-put rights. The parents still have due process. Accommodations should be personalized not boilerplate. Don’t give more than the student needs, and don’t make it a consolation prize for students who don’t qualify for an IEP.

Good practices for both types of meetings

  • Preparation prior to the meetings is key. Prepare an agenda, find a comfortable room that is large enough, and neatly decorated. Assign seats and make sure team members understand their roles. Miriam provides a list of “cringe words” that you should avoid. Make sure everyone understands the ground rules. Start on time. Don’t allow interruptions or side conversations. Turn phones off. Track issues agreed upon on a flipchart. Keep the meeting moving so it ends on time.
  • The district representative should chair the meeting. This person needs to let other school employees know what is expected and how to behave. This person also needs to make sure that the parent’s rights are respected. At the end review what has been agreed on and make sure everyone understands the next steps. The focus should be on the future and what the student needs going forward. Smile and offer a friendly demeanor. Make sure school staff avoid negative body language. The goal here is to build TRUST with families. Members should actively listen and be succinct. Follow up with parents and reconvene if things don’t work out. Provide drinks and a snack. Miriam also gives two pages of advice for when things go wrong.

Miriam Kurtzig Freedman

  • Miriam is an attorney and former teacher who works with people who want better schools. As an immigrant to America at elementary-school-age, she was empowered by public schools and works to help educators teach all children. She works for the Boston firm of Stoneman, Chandler, & Miller where she gives lively and practical presentations, training, and consultations. She co-founded Special Education Day, authored eight books, and has written for many national publications. If you are interested in her presentations visit and contact her at
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