The Language of IEPs and 504s: Ban "As Needed"

This article was published July 31, 2020. The messaging remains the same, but new examples have been provided of how "as needed" plays out in IEP and 504 meetings.

Imagine you injure your leg.

Now imagine that the doctor gives someone crutches for you and tells that person to provide the crutches to you as needed.

That person sees you hopping on one foot from the sofa to the bathroom just fine and determines you don't need the crutches. You know otherwise. You know that without those crutches, you are at risk of falling and perhaps another injury. Although you might not need to use the crutches every minute, you need access to the crutches every minute.

Accommodations are Needed

Either a child needs accommodations or he or she doesn't. There is no "as needed" when it comes to accommodation.

Imagine your child in school. Perhaps your child has the accommodation “frequent breaks as needed”.

Your child’s frequent breaks are kin to the crutches you need to walk. He or she needs them to make it through the day.

The child might not use the accommodation every minute of the school day, but the child needs access to the accommodation every minute of the school day.

Access Doesn't Require Permission

Unlike you, your child is younger, and perhaps has different struggles that get in the way of your child being able to communicate that he or she needs a break.

Maybe your son is shy or your daughter doesn't like her classmates knowing she has accommodations, so neither ask for the accommodation when they need it. Instead, they go without.

If "as needed" is deep sixed and your child knows he or she can take breaks without asking permission, there's a good chance your child will access the accommodation.

Having to request access can itself be a wall blocking access.

Children Aren't Responsible for Accessing Their Own Accommodations

Some children are self-conscious, while others don't understand — or don't even know — their own accommodations, so the accommodations go unused. It is your school's responsibility to ensure this doesn't happen.

At the end of the school year, a teacher can't explain away bad grades because — as another example — a student didn't access his "testing to completion" accommodation because his teacher scared him. Thus, he was afraid to ask for more time when his tests were taken from him unfinished.

If there is an issue, the school should work with the student. There might be a case where a behavior intervention plan is needed if the accommodations are deemed necessary, but your student continues to refuse them.

From the Trenches

In the first 504s my son had, there was a lot of “as needed” language.

I didn’t understand the process and believed the teachers to have my child’s best interest at heart.

As the years progressed—and my son received an IEP and I gained fluency in the language and process of special education—I discovered three things:

  • There are a lot of nice teachers who are ignorant when it comes to IEPs and 504s. One of my son’s elementary school teachers told me she didn’t speak much in “those meetings” because her opinion didn’t matter. Are you kidding me? She was his main teacher, for all but one subject. She knew him better than anyone else. She should have been leading all the meetings.
  • Many school IEP or 504 team members don’t understand why specific things are worded the way they are or done the way they are done, so they follow along with those higher up on the totem poll.

It’s like my dad, who used to tie the Christmas tree to the closest curtain rod every year, because that’s what his dad did. He finally “got it” and bought a good Christmas stand, so the fear of a falling tree disappeared, but . . . It took a while and he spent years doing something just because that’s what he’d seen done before him.

Often, parents have to educate the team members. Just because they work for the school doesn’t make them the experts. It just makes them people who work at a school.

If “as needed” appears on any IEP or 504 plan put in front of you, request that the words be removed. If you’re advised “that’s how we do it”, ask for documentation citing this to be true, and pull out IDEA or Section 504, and point out “as needed” doesn’t appear in either. A child doesn’t need an IEP plan or a 504 plan as needed. Children need everything in their IEPs or 504s period.

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