(Before I write a single word I have to put this disclaimer out there. I am not a lawyer (thank GOD! I was enrolled for my first semester but dropped out and got married!) and I am not a school district superintendent. I'm simply a mom who has been homeschooling kiddos with disabilities since 2005 and needed to come up a way to stay within our states laws without creating an unfavorable environment for our kids with learning disabilities.)
Yesterday I wrote my my first 'official' 504 plan for one of our older kids who has significant learning disabilities as well as exhausting behavioral/emotional challenges woven into his FASD. It has been a long time coming and along the way I have done a lot of talking, researching and contemplating the issues which started surfacing his first day of kindergarten.
A 504 plan is different from a IEP in several ways. You can click on the link above to read more about that...for our family an IEP would only be helpful if we wanted the school district to be legally responsible for some portion of our children's education (and IEP is a legal contract between the school and the parents.) Which is NOT something that we are interested in at this point because we are not using the districts special education services.
What we do want is some way to determine and document that the basic state standards for homeschoolers are inappropriate when applied to certain children and have a legal basis for why we are making that decision. In Minnesota our standards are very clear and for our kiddos who are unable to meet the 30th percentile on standardized testing (at their grade level - not ability level) we are taking a new track.
1. In our family the children who can't meet the 30th percentile marker are all being tested every 18-24 months by their neuropsychologists and developmental pediatricians to gain approximate grade level abilities. This usually includes a woodcock/Johnson.
2. I am creating 504 plans for those who fall below the 30th percentile as if we were a non-public school (which we are - under homeschooling law in MN.) Those plans are filed in their personal school file here at the house and will have measurable goals for their particular academic achievement. Things such as: modify learning environment, move from reading three letter to four letter words with semi-fluency, master counting to 100, learn to add two digit numbers and master 25% of their current years material. It also says....that their academic growth will be evaluated based on the 504 goals - and that they will not participate in the state standardized testing because it is based on grade not instructional level and they are unable to preform at grade level.
Is this enough to protect us from legal issues with the State? I hope so. If not, it is certainly enough documentation and supporting testing to demonstrate to the court that our children who do fall below the 30% are not being neglected - they are simply working to their own abilities.
Which honestly is our larger goal as we homeschool - that each child- whether their IQ is 140 or 70 - would do their very own best - learning at their own pace - according to their own bent - and that in the end they would all be as prepared as possible for the next step in their journey into adulthood. I don't need my challenged kids to annually fail miserably on a standardized test (and believe me...they know it when they can't even do the sample questions in the first section) in order to meet a state guideline. Not if I can invest the time in a 504 and spare them the agony. There are enough hard things in their lives - this doesn't need to be one of them.
(Note: I have spoken several times to the homeschool office, special education department and various testing offices within our state trying to figure this out. In the end I think this is a 'safe' and 'reasonable' option for this particular child. To create my 504 I used a template that is linked to the section above and modified it for home school. As far as I know this is 'new' ground within the home educating world- but it is important to our kids that they be treated with respect - which includes not being forced to take a test so far above their abilities. )