I just moved into a new apartment in Chicago.
If you’re a special needs parent, you know that money can be especially tight when looking for a new home because we have to save for things that other parents often don’t think about: therapeutic equipment, high health insurance premiums for the best plans, frequent doctor and therapy appointments, special foods, etc. Then, when looking for a home, we often have to keep special things in mind for accessibility’s sake: ramps, elevators, safety rails, extra storage for therapy equipment, laundry in-unit for frequent clean-ups, and other amenities that make it so you don’t have to leave your special needs child alone for even a minute. These extras can be expensive, so finding a home that has it all at the right price can be a challenge.
I had a great real estate agent from the Lap of Luxury group with @ properties show me some amazing apartments in my price range, and she was talented enough to quickly find a unit that “had it all.” While viewing the apartment, I explained my situation to the listing agent - I’ll call her “Gina Spring.” I told “Gina” that I am a single mom of a young boy with special needs, so we needed an especially safe apartment at a budget-friendly price. She enthusiastically encouraged me to apply, and I did, and I was approved for the apartment. I’m very proud of my excellent credit score and had no doubt I would be approved, but I was so excited to have found something just right at the perfect price point.
Then, soon after I was approved, “Gina” called my Lap of Luxury agent to tell me something had changed. Because my son would be living with me in the apartment, “Gina” and the owners decided the rent would be raised by nearly an extra 15% above the original price. They knew from the beginning that my disabled son would be living with me. This was housing discrimination based on disability status and familial status, and it’s illegal.
My agent from Lap of Luxury told “Gina” that doing this to me was illegal discrimination. I think “Gina Spring”, a seasoned agent who has been in the industry for nearly 30 years, believed that I was unaware of my rights and could simply get away with charging a few extra hundred dollars because of my “circumstances.” Not so, and not OK.
As soon as my agent called her out on the discrimination, “Gina” rescinded the raise in rent and told me I could sign the lease for the original price. I was so offended by the incident that I declined to sign the lease and asked for my money back on the apartment application, which she refunded promptly. She knew she was wrong. She knew this was illegal. She had done it anyway.
I reported “Gina Spring” to the federal department of Housing and Urban Development and to the Illinois Department of Human Rights Fair Housing Division for discrimination based on familial status and disability status. I felt that, as an advocate for families of children with special needs, it was incumbent on me to take a stand against this kind of behavior.
Luckily, my own agent was awesome and quickly found me another apartment that had just popped onto the MLS that was an even better deal (and had Lake views to boot!) I am so grateful that my agent recognized this discrimination and promptly called out the listing agent on her illegal behavior. I hope all real estate agents are as vigilant as she was about discrimination of any kind.
Have you faced housing discrimination due to your status as a special needs parent? If you or someone you know has faced this issue, please contact me. I will help you file a grievance federally and with your state for FREE because this must not stand.
Have you ever been in the middle of a meeting at your child’s school and thought to yourself, “WTF are they talking about?”
Like any profession, education has its own jargon full of acronyms. Even as a teacher, sometimes, it’s hard to keep up. Don’t be afraid to speak up in your meeting and ask, “What is that?” In the meantime, I’ve made a “SpEd Speak” cheat sheet you can use to translate what the OT has to say about your child’s BIP in the LRE during the ESY.
PS: Did I miss one? Did an acronym come up in a meeting that you don’t see on this list? Let me know - I will fill you in and add it to the list!
“SpEd Speak”: Acronyms and Abbreviations
504: 504 plan as mandated by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act
AAC: Augmentative and Alternative Communication
ABA: Applied Behavioral Analysis
BAS: Benchmark Assessment System
BCBA: Board Certified Behavior Analyst
BIP: Behavioral Intervention Plan
CBM: Classroom-Based Measure
CCSS: Common Core State Standards
DIBELS: Dynamic Indicators of Basic English Literacy Skills
DT: Developmental therapy
ECSE: Early Childhood Special Education
ED: Emotional Disability
EE: Educational Environment
EI: Early Intervention
EL/ELL: English Learner or English Language Learner
ESY: Extended School Year
F&P: Fountas & Pinnell reading assessements and intervention
FBA: Functional Behavioral Assessment
FAPE: Free Appropriate Public Education
IB: International Baccalaureate
IDEA: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
IEP: Individualized Education Plan
LCSW: Licensed clinical social worker
LEA: Local Educational Agency (agent attending a meeting to represent the school district)
LLI: Leveled Literacy Intervention
LRE: Least Restrictive Environment
MPW: Minutes per Week
MTSS: Multi-Tiered System of Support
NWEA MAP: Northwest Evaluation Association Measures of Academic Progress standardized test
OT: Occupational therapy/therapist
PBIS: Positive Behavior Intervention System
PT: Physical therapy/therapist
RBT: Registered Behavior Therapist
RTI: Response to Intervention
SEL: Social and Emotional Learning
SLD: Specific Learning Disability
SLP: Speech/language pathologist
SpEd: Special education
SSDI: Social Security Disability Income
SSI: Social Security Income
SW: Social work
TPBA: Transdisciplinary Play-Based Assessment
Illinois and Chicago Specific Terms
CPS: Chicago Public Schools
DCFS: Department of Child and Family Services
DLM: Dynamic Learning Maps (an assessment sometimes done instead of IAR for students in special education)
DRS: Division of Rehabilitative Services (part of IDHS)
IAR: Illinois Assessment of Readiness
IDHS: Illinois Department of Human Services
ILS: Illinois Learning Standards
ISBE: Illinois State Board of Education
ISTAR: IEP Special Education Tracking and Reporting System (yes, that is an acronym inside an acronym)
ODLSS: Office of Diverse Learner Supports and Services
PAS: Pre-Admission Screening
PUNS: Prioritization for Urgency of Need for Services
One of the most common questions I get from parents is, “What is the difference between an IEP and a 504 plan?”
IEPs and 504 plans are both plans to help children with diverse needs get extra support from their school district to help them achieve success.
An IEP is an Individualized Education Plan for children with disabilities. Under the federal Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA), children with disabilities can get an IEP in their school district to receive a variety of services and accommodations and modifications in the school setting. Services include, but are not limited to, occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech and language therapy, social work or counseling, and positive behavior intervention. Accommodations and modifications are the ways the school makes the learning environment work for your child, like providing him visual schedules and allowing sensory breaks (accommodations) or simplifying a project rubric and altering homework difficulty level (modifications).
In all cases, in order to receive services and accommodations and modifications, a school district must evaluate a child to confirm his eligibility. Eligibility guidelines for an IEP can be relatively strict; a child’s needs must fall under one of thirteen specific disability categories. When a child’s needs do not fit the strict guidelines of IDEA for an IEP, but they clearly warrant special support services in order for the child to successfully access FAPE (free and appropriate public education), a 504 plan is considered. The law that enables 504 plans (Section 504 of the federal Rehabilitation Act) offers a broader definition of disability. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act calls for 504 plans for any students whose “mental or physical impairment...substantially limits one or more major life activities.” Therefore, if a child cannot get an IEP, that child may be eligible for a 504 instead.
So what is the difference between the two plans in practice? A 504 plan can provide students with virtually all of the same services and accommodations and modifications that an IEP can. However, unlike IEPs, which are legally binding written documents, 504 plans do not have to be written documents under the law. Therefore, in some circumstances, you may find that 504 plans are not necessarily executed with as much fidelity as one would like. Additionally, 504 plans do not have to have specific goals and objectives like IEPs that schools must track over time. A lack of documentation over time can lead to inconsistencies in support for a child as he changes from one classroom to another, year after year. However, in most districts, schools write and execute 504 plans with just as much fidelity as IEPs, though they typically lack goal-setting portions.* Most school districts I have worked with provide written 504 plans that are well documented over time and help students greatly.
School districts often administer 504 plans for milder disabilities easily ameliorated by basic accommodations and modifications. For example, often, students with ADHD as their only disability will receive a 504 plan because their needs can be met with accommodations and modifications and do not require significant support services such as physical or speech therapy.** A child with an allergy may get a 504 to create a crisis plan should he be exposed to his allergent. Another child may get a 504 as a temporary measure if she breaks her dominant arm. In that 504 plan, one might find accommodations such as extra time on written tests, using typing devices, or even temporary occupational therapy minutes. Simply put, a 504 plan is a way to get a child the support he or she needs for temporary disabilities, minor disabilities, or disabilities that do not fall under the IEP umbrella.
Parents often feel concerned to know for which of the two plans their child will be eligible. In most cases - as long as the school district provides written 504 plans - either plan is completely acceptable. It is not necessary to go into a district evaluation with a goal in mind of getting one or the other because both plans can provide the supports a child needs.
So, for which plan does your child qualify? Will he get an IEP or a 504? Contact me, and I can help you answer these questions next!
*Typically, students with behavior issues with 504 plans can still get Behavior Intervention Plans (BIPs) that schools track over time, mitigating that issue.
**Note to parents of children with ADHD! Just because your child takes medicine and therefore performs better in school does not mean he is no longer eligible for a 504 or IEP! A federal court ruled that, as January 2009, “mitigating measures” with “ameliorative effects” such as ADHD medication cannot be considered when determining if a child’s disability makes him eligible for services!
With vaccines finally rolling in, more and more schools are opening up for in-person learning. While many of us are eager to get our kids back into (safe) classrooms, we also need to keep in mind how these changes will affect our most vulnerable young learners. Students face not just the colossal transition from remote-learning to being in-person again, but also the myriad changes within the physical school setting, such as mask mandates and social distancing. All this change leaves students and parents alike vulnerable to major anxiety.
So what can we do to help our kids (and ourselves) navigate these transitions? One way to mitigate anxiety in students returning to in-person learning is to preview what school will look like. “Preview lessons” is actually a common accommodation added to IEPs! Previewing not only mitigates anxiety about new concepts, but also activates related prior knowledge to “prime” a student’s brain for the content. This makes new concepts easier to absorb when instructors explicitly teach them for the first time.
The Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) and Chicago Public Schools (CPS) have created informative, graphic-based documents to illustrate what the return to school will look like. Documents like these are perfect for previewing a “day in the life” of your child back at school! Click the files below to access the documents. If your child attends independent school or a school in a different city, reach out to your school directly for in-person learning plans you can preview with your child.