There are many issues at the start of a new school year that interfere with the smooth transition parents seek for their son or daughter who has an IEP or 504 plan developed months earlier. Currently, IEP may refer to an individualized education plan, or an individualized education program. 504 plans are accommodations for students with disabilities introduced under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, federal law. Changes in staffing, administrative personnel, enrollment and budgets may mean that their child will not be in the classroom expected, or even attending the same school.
Every grade change means new beginnings, whether a student remains in the same neighborhood building for years at a stretch, or moves from neighborhood to neighborhood as special education programs are relocated to make room for mainstream students overflowing their classrooms. Some schools are affected by severe weather events, vandalism, or discovery of unsafe conditions. In most cases, the community takes its schools for granted. In recent years, buildings have closed due to low enrollment or a wide scale economic downturn, causing transition problems for families of children who attend those schools.
In schools with a stable enrollment, children become familiar with adults throughout the building, whether they are directly involved in a specific classroom or not. Very often, adults are familiar with more children than they meet through direct contact.
Of course students becoming familiar with the building itself is a natural result of spending time there. Many families who are determined to enroll their children in their neighborhood school from kindergarten on up actually consider very few of the benefits that actually result from children starting out and growing up with the same classmates they would have known without an IEP or 504 plan.
Teachers may not be aware of how many students with IEPs will be included in their classrooms until the week before school starts, and may not meet or may have no time to train and work with aides or paraprofessionals until several days or weeks have passed. New teachers may have been hired the week before school starts, or may replace substitutes who are brought in when enrollment numbers surprise the school district.
When a student with an IEP has attended the same school the previous year, a new teacher has a much better chance to discover more than the paperwork will show. A returning teacher will know who to ask about simple accommodations and supports that have been helpful for each student, and of course some will continue naturally due to familiarity of returning staff.
No matter how long a student has attended the same school, the first few days of each school year there is enough change and confusion so that all of the benefits of familiarity cannot guarantee predictable routines and safeguards. As parents, we can only follow their instincts in taking extra care preparing for positive experiences as well as worst case scenarios.
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But itís in their IEP!
What is a 504 plan?