School Counselor Strategies to Bring to Your Next IEP or 504 Meeting with Catherine Whitcher [Episode 122]


Here's What to Expect In This Episode:

I’m shocked to say it, but today’s topic is a first for the podcast! It’s not something that we’re immersed in our day-to-day routine, but it’s so important in supporting student needs that, as high school counselors, we should be knowledgeable about it. That’s right, I’m talking about IEPs and 504s. Since I’m not an expert in this subject, I wanted to bring on a guest who has decades of experience and can help provide us with the information we need when attending IEP and 504 meetings.

Today’s guest, Catherine Whitcher, has a passion for solving special education struggles. She has earned multiple Special Education teaching certifications but left the classroom life behind to become a collaborative resource for parents and teachers at the IEP table. Catherine’s an expert on the subject and is ready to share her advice and tips with us today.

In today’s episode, Catherine is sharing some IEP and 504 meeting strategies and the role of a high school counselor during these meetings. With her experience, she provides helpful advice on how to be an advocate for the child, ways to build relationships with the students and their families, and how to be a “solution finder” instead of adding to the problem. Throughout our conversation, you will hear Catherine’s energy and passion come to light and take away productive and effective ways to be part of an IEP or 504 meeting in the future.

Topics Covered in This Episode:

  • Catherine’s tips for 504s and things we should never say or talk about during an IEP meeting
  • The role of a counselor during IEP and 504 meetings and new strategies to use
  • The importance of knowing the different rules and processes for each document
  • Why the strategies and accommodations on a 504 should be specific instead of broad

Resources Mentioned in This Episode:

Meet Catherine Whitcher:

Catherine Whitcher has over 25 years of experience solving special education struggles. Motivated by watching her family navigate IEPs for her brother with Down syndrome, she earned multiple Special Education teaching certifications but left the classroom life behind to become a collaborative resource for parents and teachers at the IEP table.

She founded the Master IEP Coach® Mentorship + Network, created the IEP Development Wheel™, and hosts the Special Education Inner Circle podcast. Her tested strategies have been implemented by thousands to build effective IEPs. With deep expertise and creative solutions, Catherine is dedicated to supporting your Special Education journey and improving outcomes for all children.

Connect With Our Guest:

Read the transcript for this episode:

Lauren Tingle 0:00
Welcome to this week’s podcast episode where we are talking about IEP s and 504s. Now, this is not something we’ve talked about on here before but it is such an important topic that I thought we would bring in an expert.

Lauren Tingle 0:13
So I want to introduce you to Catherine Whitcher. Catherine Whitcher has over 25 years of experience solving special education struggles, motivated by watching her family navigate IEP s for her brother with Down Syndrome, she earned multiple special education teaching certifications but left the classroom life behind to become a collaborative resource for parents and teachers at the IEP table.

Lauren Tingle 0:35
She founded the Master IEP Coach, Mentorship and Network, created the IEP Development Wheel and host the Special Education Inner Circle podcast. Her tested strategies have been implemented by 1000s to build effective IEPs. With deep expertise and creative solutions, Catherine is dedicated to supporting your special education journey and improving outcomes for all children.

Lauren Tingle 0:59
Now, you will love my conversation with Catherine, she’s so upbeat, she has so much good information to share. You just know she’s an expert by hearing her talk about her craft and her passion. So let’s get into this week’s episode, where she shares with us some things we should never talk about at the IEP table. And then also gives us some tips for 504s as well.

Lauren Tingle 1:58
Hey, Catherine. I have Catherine with me from the Master IEP Coach, Mentorship and Network and she is an expert at all things Special Ed, I’m just gonna give you that title like umbrella, all things. Because I wanted to have someone on here to talk about IEPs and 504s and be that expert voice where maybe you know, I don’t have that and you listeners maybe don’t feel like you are the special ed teacher in your school, you shouldn’t feel like that. So I brought in an expert to chat with us about all things special ed. So thanks for being here, Catherine.

Catherine 2:30
I’m so excited. Thank you for having me. I’m excited to dive in the conversation. And let’s just let’s just give some strategies and some hope and some nuggets that hopefully everybody can take to their next, whether it’s an IEP meeting or a 504 meeting, but just kind of bring some new strategies to the table.

Lauren Tingle 2:49
Yeah, that’d be great. So a lot of counselors are probably going to have school counselors are finding themselves sitting in an IEP as a transitional specialist or that person who has to sign the form for that. And they don’t really know what they should be bringing to that meeting. And then they also might find themselves, if they’re lucky, they’re in the same kind of position doing that with a 504. But most high school counselors are in charge of the 504.

Lauren Tingle 3:14
They’re doing everything from scheduling it, to inviting the people, to coming up with the strategies, which often feels outside of our, our zone of genius. And depending on where you are, maybe you got some good training on that. Or maybe you’re always trying to consult with other counselors to figure out what the 504 should look like.

Lauren Tingle 3:34
So let’s talk IEPs first, because that’s bigger picture and maybe not as much responsibility that the counselor showing up with like, they didn’t have to prepare the outline for the meeting or anything like that. What are some things that high school counselors should always be saying at that table? And what information should they be bringing? What are things they should never be saying at that table?

Catherine 3:54
This is one of my favorite conversations is talking about, you know, like, what should we never say at the table? Because I think that’s where we sit in our thought process in our head where we’re like, okay, like, what do I need to say? What should I not say, you know, what do I need to make sure I bring up what shouldn’t I? And the fear really comes from not wanting to say the wrong thing.

Lauren Tingle 4:09
Exactly. I don’t want any, like legal repercussions for saying the wrong thing

Catherine 4:13
Right. And it’s a big process. And, and so we have IDEA law that governs you know, the IEP, we have our 504 laws, regulations and things that govern that. I do just want to say since we’re talking about both of them.

Catherine 4:27
There is a big myth out there that I think sometimes confuses counselors or even other staff members that are in more of the special education department. Parents will hear they’ll hear which basically means they went into some Facebook gossipy group, call it out. They went somewhere and got this information that like my child needs a 504 and an IEP. No, they don’t.

Catherine 4:49
They don’t need both because anything that goes on a 504 is going to be covered within an IEP, therefore, you know, you don’t need that. I also hear a lot of times I can’t give up the IEP and go to a 504 Because a 504 is not enforceable. Yes, it is. It’s absolutely enforceable. We hope that we don’t have to get to that point, right.

Catherine 5:07
So there’s this this fear going like shifting between paperwork. It’s like hopping between, you know, baseball and basketball, like they’re like, there’s different rules, there’s different things that happen. But they’re both very valid sports, like they’re both very valid pieces of paper to get access to things, it’s just you have to know the different rules of the different processes.

Catherine 5:29
So if we’re going to talk IEPs, first, one of the things that I want to make sure that counselors are really aware of is to never say we don’t do that here. And I think a lot of times, because as a counselor, you have a broader perspective of what’s happening in the building. And you’re going to be hearing a very detailed conversation in an IEP meeting, maybe something very specific to a family requesting a one on one aid support for all or a portion of the day, they’re going to be maybe asking for some specific one on one reading instructions, they’re going to be asking for some really specific things.

Catherine 6:09
And the main Special Education team there is going to be kind of negotiating this conversation. And I have had counselors in the past be like, well, we just don’t do that here. Like they’re trying to justify why the school team is saying No, and that’s one of the biggest firestarters that can happen in an IEP meeting, because just because you haven’t done something doesn’t mean that it’s not possible to do it.

Catherine 6:32
So I would love for, as a counselor, you to think of, you know, your solution finder at that table. That’s really what your role role is, at all of these meetings, it’s like, I need to help find a solution, how am I gonna be a supporting solution? So instead be the how anytime that you hear somebody say, even if it’s one of your colleagues say like, we don’t do that here, you can always shift that conversation in a very respectful way and say, Yes, we never have done that before.

Catherine 6:32
How would it be possible to get to that end result? If you notice, I skipped over, like, let’s just say it’s a one on one aid support, I skipped over that, how would we possible to have a one on one A, how are you possible get to the one to get to that end result of the child being supported fully.

Lauren Tingle 7:18
That way, if it isn’t possible, then you’re still okay. But we want to see the results, we want to see them achieve their goals and define success. So that’s, that’s the real thing we’re aiming towards anyway, not all the little steps to get there.

Catherine 7:30
And it might be a one on one aid, but it might not be a one on one aid, because a lot of times, again, parents will come to with this idea of saying, you know, my child needs a one on one aid. And it’s because that’s the advice that they’ve gotten from the outside is well, your child needs a one on one aid in order to access this math class in order to access, you know, reading in order to access the science class, they have to have this one on one aid.

Catherine 7:54
And when I’m working with a parent, when I’m coaching them through, I’m saying things to the parent, listen, what do we really want we want your child to and we describe the end result. And there’s always more than one way to get to that end result. A one on one aid might be the right decision, it might be the thing that we go towards a might be the thing that we you know, dig our heels in about to do that. But what are some other options that might get us there?

Catherine 8:18
So again, as a counselor, anytime that you can be that, how can we get to that end result? And you can be focused on the end result. And say, Okay, there’s multiple ways to get there. One could be a one on one, aid. Okay, team, how else could we get there? And open that conversation, that’s a really big deal.

Lauren Tingle 8:32
Yeah and just being open minded to even the thing that has never happened in our school before. Like, you don’t have to promise that it can happen or say that it can’t happen. But you can say, I’m gonna go, I can go do some research on that. I can go ask, you know, what they do at other schools, or like you are now the informant for the school from you can ask around at the district.

Lauren Tingle 8:53
Like I worked in a big district. And I’m sure there were things happen in other schools that were resources that we didn’t have in our school. But I mean, we found a way and somebody else in the district was Special Ed said, yeah, that’s possible. But I didn’t know that was possible.

Catherine 9:07
Yeah, we definitely have a very limited amount of experience when it comes to being the professional at the table. And parents don’t understand that. And I think sometimes as teachers or as counselors, we don’t recognize, like, we really do, we could have.

Catherine 9:21
I have 26-27 years of experience professionally in the special education world. And I will never say I know all the solutions are all the things like there’s no way.

Lauren Tingle 9:32
Every situation is different.

Catherine 9:34
Yes, yes. There’s just as unique as the child, there’s going to be things. So, all right, you’re ready for another one?

Lauren Tingle 9:41
Yes. What not to say, because I’m sure you’ve heard a lot of them.

Catherine 9:45
Oh my God, a lot. I could, I could probably write a book on it. I’m not going to, but I could probably do that.

Catherine 9:50
Wait and see. Well, let’s just wait and see. Like let’s just wait and see. And that’s a very, it seems like a very nice way to compromise at the moment. Well, we’ll wait and see And a lot of times, then you as a counselor, you’ll throw yourself into that solution. Let’s just wait and see. I’ll go check on them next week and let you know how they’re doing.

Lauren Tingle 10:06
You’re creating more work for yourself as the counselor.

Catherine 10:09
Yeah, get it out, don’t do it. Wait and see is not a strategy. If that’s not wait and see with an action plan beyond just I’ll just check in. Let’s, let’s wait and see. But while we’re waiting, like, what’s the see part? Like, we need to see the data, we need to actually get some information that is that quantifiable like that we can we can say, Okay, this is what we’re seeing.

Catherine 10:36
So usually wait and see means we don’t have enough information to make a decision. So what’s the plan to get that information? So be part of that information gatheringb eyond just an observation or checking in.

Lauren Tingle 10:48
What would some of those points of observation or data gathering be like, as a counselor? Should I say, I’ll watch their grades from here on out? We’ll see if they’re turning in assignments, like what kinds of things can a counselor be watching to see?

Catherine 11:01
Yeah, so you can be that that person, not just even watching the grades or that but maybe go in and do an observation and see what is the child doing during class time, because the teacher is continuous to saying the child’s off task, and they need to have whatever the teachers complaint is like, this is not working, right.

Catherine 11:20
There might be something that you can see and take information, oh, whenever you give directions verbally, they’re really not understanding them. But the minute that you have them on, you know, up on the board in for the classroom, or if they’re on the paper, you might catch something that oh, my gosh, I think this child’s a visual learner, and he’s not processing all the auditory things that are happening.

Catherine 11:44
Or you might notice something that when it comes to peer relations, like, oh, you know what, this is the only class that this child is in the, you know, with his best friends, and he’s really lacking the social time. So the reason he’s being disruptive is because he really wants more time to socialize, and to build this relationship. And that happens a lot in high school, right? It’s like, I just want to get around my friends, and figure this out. And so you might be able to say, Okay, let’s give the child some strategies to engage in class and give some extra opportunities outside of class and get them connected to his peers to do that.

Catherine 12:17
So it’s really that bigger observations, trying to find some trends of what is happening. And being an extra set of eyes, most kids are not going to know because you’re a counselor, and you’re not necessarily as hands on as the other teachers, they’re not going to know that you’re there really looking at them. And you can be like the best spy.

Lauren Tingle 12:36
And that’s a great way to continue that partnership with the special ed teacher, like you already have, that person called you to this meeting, you probably already know each other a little bit. But like, Hey, let me see if there’s something that you’re not seeing just the same way. Like we would give each other feedback, we’re working together for the student, you get to continue that relationship with a special ed teacher.

Lauren Tingle 12:56
And then I also think something that you said, there, it was making me think when you’re a counselor and you’re sitting down at that table, you really are eyes and ears around the whole school, whereas the special ed teacher is in that classroom with that student, you mentioned like knowing their friends, or knowing what the other classes on their schedule are, what those teacher relationships are like.

Lauren Tingle 13:16
So you come in as this just strategist as a counselor, because you see a whole picture too, that you get to bring to that table. So I think that getting to offer that to the special ed teacher just helps continue that relationship with the teacher, like we get to bring our expertise to the table.

Catherine 13:32
Absolutely, absolutely. So I’ve got a third one that I definitely wanted to make sure, yes, please don’t be silent. Don’t be silent.

Lauren Tingle 13:40
Which that’s probably the easiest thing to do is just to sit there and say, Okay, I’m here for the meeting, I’ll sign my paper and move on, I don’t need to create any extra work. So it’s probably pretty easy to do that one.

Catherine 13:51
And it happens a lot. And so in parents, they afterwards they’re gonna go talk to the other parents or talk to, you know, their advocate, or they’re gonna be like, I don’t know, like.

Lauren Tingle 14:02
Whoever that was in that meeting.

Catherine 14:04
She didn’t even say anything. I don’t know why she’s there. Like, why? Or they’re gonna say like, like, they might even call out of like, do you even know my child? Right? So our strategy here to make sure that you’re not silent, is to make sure that you do have some experience with that child, even if it’s from afar.

Catherine 14:23
You got to take some time to gather some information of you know, I’ve really noticed that your child loves I’ve really noticed, like, make sure that you have a some type of personal information that lets the parent know that you’ve either engaged or observed with their child and that.

Catherine 14:41
But here’s the here’s the biggest thing. You mentioned a lot of times, you know, it’s about that transition planning and you’re asked to be part of this transition planning that just feels like this elusive piece of paper that’s supposed to be magical and preparing your child for the future and there’s so much more to it.

Catherine 15:00
So I’m gonna drop this is where we’re gonna get a little technical here. I’m not a lawyer, so I’m not practicing law, I’m not giving you legal advice, but I love to teach you where to look. And if you, as a counselor can take one phrase from ideal law and just kind of anchor it in your work inside of IEPs, it would be huge.

Catherine 15:18
So the purpose of an IEP, so inside the purpose of an IEP, and this is, again, in the legal document, it says it’s to provide a free and appropriate public education. Now, that’s what most people know, like, oh, we have to provide FAAPE, we say, you know, FAAPE free and appropriate public education, and that’s where the conversation stops. It’s just, Okay, we got to provide FAAPE, we got to do what’s appropriate.

Catherine 15:18
But there’s two phrases right after that. So a free and appropriate public education to meet a child’s unique needs, and to prepare them for further education, employment and independent living. And that’s our goal at that table is to meet a child’s unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment independent living.

Catherine 15:59
What’s interesting is, that is the purpose of an IEP from the day a child gets an IEP at age three, let’s just say they came into the school first thing, they know that we have an IEP at age three, you’re now seeing the child when they’re 14, 15, 16, 17. And that should have been the focus the whole time. But in the IEP paperwork, we actually don’t see those three categories of further education, employment, independent living show up until the transition paperwork.

Catherine 16:27
So that’s a good thing for you to know, as a counselor, as this was the entire purpose all this time. But this is the first time we’re seeing further education, employment, independent living, and everything inside of that IEP should be aligned to those three things.

Catherine 16:43
So if you see something that is in the IEP, that is not preparing a child for further education, employment, independent living, and I’m just going to, I want to encourage you, you know more about the future than a lot of the other people at the table because we are head down in special education world or disability world, and you are working with a wide variety of students, most who do not have IEPs.

Catherine 17:09
So you see things like, okay, the trend in this generation is they are more connected. Welcome to social media and all their things, they are more connected than in the past, but they have less community and less relationships. So when we’re taking a child who has an IEP, and we’re saying we want them to develop relationships with their general education peers. A lot of their general education, peers don’t know how to develop relationship, right?

Catherine 17:34
Like, so you can be that connection between like, Okay, we understand that we that we need to work on friendships and relationships and support and those kinds of things. You know, let’s keep in mind that the average 15 year old right now doesn’t know how to have a give and take conversation.

Catherine 17:50
So now we want our child with an IEP to go have a give and take conversation. And they get looked at like, why why are you talking to me like that? Like, why are you having like this like conversation where we’re talking about, like, the normal everyday things of like, how’s the weather, we don’t do that anymore.

Lauren Tingle 18:06
Right. And so, I mean, you said, so many good things in there. And I’m thinking, even just start sitting down at the table and not being silent, like starting the conversation and saying, Hi, I’m Lauren Tingle, I’m your child’s counselor, because they might have not even met you before. And, you know, it’s easier to sit there and just, you know, bring your computer in or catch up on your emails or something like I’ve seen people do that. And it’s not helpful.

Lauren Tingle 18:32
I’ve just thought, if I’m going to come to the meeting, I might as well participate and build that advocacy piece that I talked about to my high school counselors all the time of, hey, we’re constantly saying this is what our role is, this is what we do. This is how we can help. And the IEP meeting is just one more place that we can do that. And by using your voice, you’re doing that by connecting with a family by showing that you know, their student.

Lauren Tingle 18:55
I mean, I love what you said, of just even having one little nugget. And just thinking as a parent, too. If if someone was in a meeting with me and knew one thing about my student about my child, how happy that would make me as a parent, and immediately make me trust that person, like, oh, they do know my child, or they saw my child do this, whether it was good or bad or something.

Lauren Tingle 19:16
I’m automatically thinking, Okay, I’m going to remember who you are, you know who I am. Now we have a relationship, and they’re going to use you as a counselor after that. And they’re going to touch base with you after that. So it’s a table where we can form relationships or further those relationships if we don’t have them solidified yet.

Catherine 19:34
Absolutely. And I do encourage that if you’ve never met the parent before. So I tell parents all the time that there should be no surprises at an IEP table. And that includes faces that you don’t know. You know, it’s not hard to send an email that says like, Hi, I’m Lauren. You know, we haven’t met in person.

Catherine 19:52
You can include in your little signature pop a little picture in there. That’s okay. Let them put a face to a name and just say, hey, you know, I’m going to be there. I’m excited to talk, you know about your child, and you know, their next year here at the school, or whatever that is, making sure that the parent knows who you are before they walk into the room, that would be a huge deal.

Lauren Tingle 20:11
Yeah. And I think it depends on how big the school is how big the counselors caseload is, did they follow that family all the way through, because, of course, like at that point, we have touched base at least once every year, you know, at the IEP meeting, but we’ve definitely done more than that. But when a huge caseload or when it changes each year, that can feel really tough for even the counselor to remember the parent, because they’ve seen so many students and parents.

Lauren Tingle 20:38
And same thing for the parent, if their school is not modeled where they’re following with the same special ed teacher, or the same counselor, it’s like, Okay, here’s another person that I have to meet, they’re, they’re probably pretty overwhelmed too by meeting another person in the room, so.

Catherine 20:51
It’s one of the most overwhelming pieces is to have this, like ever evolving team for your child. And you have to constantly get to know people. And if you’re trying to get to know people at the IEP meeting, where you’re supposed to be, you know, coming up with great new ideas and collaborating.

Catherine 21:08
And a good IEP meeting is more like a think tank, then, like a problem solving in a in a negative way, or throwing out new things that have never been heard before, like said no surprises at an IEP meeting. So it’s really about, you know, if we could bring the best of the best of all of our possible solutions to build this great program for the next year. But it’s hard to do that with strangers.

Lauren Tingle 21:31
And it would feel frustrating to sit down every single time and be like, Okay, another group of people who don’t know my child, I just, especially being a parent now, I just think I put myself in that parents situation a lot more than when I didn’t have kids. And you know, either way, you you figure it out whether you have kids or you don’t, but it makes me have a little bit more empathy for parents.

Catherine 21:52
Absolutely. Same thing happened to me. So I was a teacher before I had kids. And then when I had kids, I thought back to when I was a teacher. And I was like, Oh, I was doing things in my classroom where I had everything set up and structured and everything was great. And the parent was like, my child does this at home. And I’m like, well, they don’t do it here. You just need to structure it like this, and everything will be fine.

Catherine 22:13
And then I become a parent. And I’m like, What a joke. Like, you can’t sometimes cooked chicken nuggets and mac and cheese. A Yeah, I know, you can’t do that on a schedule, how you’re going to get everything else on a schedule all the time. Oh, I just Oh, my goodness. It’s like if I could go back to those parents and just be like, I’m sorry.

Lauren Tingle 22:31
If you spend enough time in the school, and you’re working with so many different students, it doesn’t matter whether you’ve had kids or not. I mean, you’re gonna see what works for kids, what doesn’t work for kids, what works that you should say and what you shouldn’t say at a meeting. So I’m glad for this conversation to get ahead of the game and warn ourselves of things that we shouldn’t say around this table.

Lauren Tingle 22:54
Do you want to switch gears to 504s?

Lauren Tingle 23:03
Let’s do it. Let’s talk about 504s.

Lauren Tingle 23:48
Are there different things that you would say don’t say this out of 504? Or, you know, what kinds of things should counselors be thinking about as they’re oftentimes leading the 504 meeting? And maybe you don’t feel equipped to be doing that? Like we’re not special ed teachers. I just think I panic what what kind of strategy should I put in place? I don’t know. There’s a lot that goes into this. And it feels scary because of all the legalities.

Catherine 24:11
Yeah, so first of all, just know that teachers aren’t trained in 504s either. Like it’s almost like this conversation that doesn’t happen between professionals at the school, it takes a while for everybody to figure out that basically, none of us got the training that we needed to do all the legal paperwork.

Catherine 24:27
And parents don’t know that. And that’s a bummer, too, right? Like, I want them to know, like, Okay, we are figuring this out. Like a lot of times it’s like, okay, we’re figuring all this out, because that transparency builds trust, and it helps us get to a better document, when we realize that we don’t have to fake it till we make it kind of thing that it’s okay to ask all of those questions.

Catherine 24:46
And again, I’m coming not just from you know, yeah, I have a bachelor’s degree in a master’s degree and I’ve always certificates on it. But I’ve been coaching, you know, families and school districts for two decades. And every time I stand in a room of teachers and I talk about IEPs, I’m like here’s stuff that college never taught you.

Catherine 25:03
And these are teachers that have been, you know, around 20-25 years. And they’re like, yes. How come nobody told me that? And why am I finding it out 25 years later that this box on the IEP or or that the 504 works this way? Like, why didn’t nobody tell me that before. And so just know that you’re not alone in that piece of feeling like you don’t know what you’re doing.

Catherine 25:22
I would say the my biggest kind of warning, about 504s is that 504s, most of the 504s I’ve seen are fluffy, they’re very general. And I believe that that comes from a lack of confidence of knowing what to put in there. So it’s like, well, if I broad stroke, what needs to happen, then it’ll all work out, because this will just cover everything. But if we broad stroke it, then that’s where the accountability issue comes in, because nobody knows what they’re supposed to be doing.

Lauren Tingle 25:54
And then that’s frustration for everyone. Y

Catherine 25:57
Yes, exactly. In the students frustrated, too. So especially at the high school level, letting a student know what’s in a 504 and that the supports exist for them. That you know, we have to do that we wouldn’t have a child, you know, who has a physical disability, let’s just say that, that uses whether using crutches or a wheelchair, we wouldn’t like not tell them about the elevator, and like watch them try to use the stairs, like we wouldn’t do that we’d be like the elevators over here, like, come on, I got you like, Let me Let me escort you to, you know, the support the service that’s going to help you get from point A to point B, the way that you need help.

Catherine 26:35
That’s what a 504 is. And we have to think about, okay, so if this child is struggling to stay on task, this child is struggling to stay, you know, regulated in their nervous system. So they need sensory breaks, they’re struggling to cope with tough situations. And they need to have, you know, a safe place to go to during the school that they’re struggling with their executive functioning. And they need to have their planner checked every day to make sure that they have what they need, you know, going home or coming back or they’re on task for this big project that’s coming up. So maybe you have to break that down.

Catherine 27:04
Be really specific in the document, and then be specific with the child. Because teaching them not only what’s in there, but how to self advocate because this is a document that can go with them on to college, this is a really big deal.

Catherine 27:19
Now, when I say self advocate, sometimes that’s taken to a whole new level where people say, well, they don’t get their supports, if they don’t ask for them. Because they didn’t self advocate for it. They don’t get it. No, it doesn’t work that way.

Catherine 27:32
So we give them everything on that piece of paper, whether they ask for it or not. Now, can they refuse it? Absolutely, they can refuse it, we take data on that we talked to the team about that we talked to the parents about that we can adjust that 504 as needed, if it’s an they don’t need, but we don’t withhold based on their ability to self advocate.

Catherine 27:50
But that’s a big piece with 504 self advocacy. And it should be an IEPs also. 504s we’re typically working then with a student who is going to be pursuing maybe some traditional college path, or traditional trade school kind of path. And we want to make sure that we are equipping them to use this piece of paper in that arena without having additional adult support.

Lauren Tingle 28:19
Exactly, because that’s what we’re trying to do with all of our students anyways, have them be able to advocate for themselves, wherever they find themselves after high school, like they’re about to be adults, and they need to go do that.

Lauren Tingle 28:30
And that’s why I think it’s so important when you sit down have that 504 meeting when the parent shows up and says Johnny’s not coming to the meeting today. I’m like, no, no, he needs to be here, this meeting is for him. Because when they’re in high school, they have a voice when they’re at a 504 table, they can share with us what’s working, what’s not working, you know, the classes that this is helpful in.

Lauren Tingle 28:52
And just like the IEP, the 504 is constantly a work in progress. Like we’re adding things, we’re taking things out, we’re trying to give them that that least restrictive environment. And so if we don’t need those supports anymore, if we don’t need the 504 anymore, it’s okay to be done with that, like your student has grown through that, and they don’t need it anymore. But we have to have that conversation with the student too to see how they’re feeling about those support. So it’s so important that their voice is part of that meeting.

Catherine 29:21
Yeah, a lot of times at the high school age, I hear a lot of parents advocating for things meaning support, like let’s just say access to a counselor, or the parent is saying this should be access to the counselor every Friday, every Friday, they’re gonna go to the counselor kind of thing. And a student gets in the meeting. They’re like, I don’t want to go to Mrs. Tingle, like, I don’t want to do it.

Lauren Tingle 29:40
We don’t need to do that. And then I’m like, what if I’m off campus on that Friday, and that’s scary to me to be written into something like that.

Catherine 29:48
Right. So having something like so if a child needs that support as somebody to talk to, you can put the plan and the 504 is like okay, like the first level person would might be units missing. The second level is this is, in principal, the third person is the PE teacher, like there can be a ladder of supports written into the 504, that allows the child to have, let’s say, a place to go calm down, or a place to go think quietly that supervised or, or, or like there’s all these different options.

Catherine 30:19
So we don’t have to mandate necessarily services at that kind of strict level. At a 504 it’s good to put in that accountability and specifics. Like this is what he you know, he needs. And these are options to access that like this is plan A, plan B, plan C, and that’s what I find in high school a lot is we need to have multiple plans to execute the 504. Because it is so chaotic, and so busy inside the high school, that one plan typically doesn’t work, we typically need multiple layers to it.

Lauren Tingle 30:51
Yeah, that’s smart to think about as you’re strategizing what those bullet points are going to be for serving that student. Because if it is too general, or there aren’t enough options, then it might not serve its purpose. And you’re gonna be back there problem solving the same stuff again, over and over.

Catherine 31:07
Yes, absolutely.

Lauren Tingle 31:09
Well, Catherine, this was super helpful in having a conversation, starting a conversation, at least, about IEP s and 504s. And you and I originally connected on social media, and I know that you share a lot of good information out there that I think even counselors would benefit from like, I still follow you still learning things.

Lauren Tingle 31:27
And so I’d encourage the high school counselor listeners to reach out to you with any questions get in your DMS, you’ll answer them, but share with them where they can find you after they’ve listened to this podcast, if they want to keep learning more about special ed services and kind of what you offer too.

Catherine 31:43
Well if you’re listening and you love podcasts, you can come follow me over at my podcast, that’s Special Education Inner Circle podcast.

Catherine 31:50
And then also, if you want to become more of that leader or a confident contributor at the IEP table, I do encourage you to go look at the Master IEP Coach Certificate Program. So that is a complete IEP development system that I put together for both parents, teachers, admins, therapists, counselors, you’ll love it, because it’s gonna help you break down all these different checkpoints and understand that process in a way that you you know, have not been able to possibly dive into before.

Catherine 32:21
And the more that you can be that support person at that table that has knowledge that others don’t have what you do you have an expertise and knowledge and you’re valuable at that IEP table. It’s how do you use that knowledge in a way that makes sense at the IEP table or at the 504 table. And that’s what I would love to help you do is really engage at that next level. So you’ve you feel like your role is meaningful because it is.

Lauren Tingle 32:47
It is. Okay, tell them where we can find you on Instagram. I’ll put it all in the show notes too. But you know, they’re listening to this they want to go pop over and follow you. Yeah,

Catherine 32:54
Yeah, so Catherine Whitcher, so just @catherinewhitcher, my first and last name, that’s that’s when I’m at most. I have other things you’ll find some more stories in such as Master IEP Coaches, that @masteriepcoach, but, you know, go grab some freebies at You know, there’ll be something up there for you, it might be some 12 Hard IEP questions need to ask. Right now I have an IEP timesaving guide up there. So you’ll probably find that somewhere on the website has, who doesn’t need to cut some prep time out of their life, right, like, let’s do that. So go find some freebies at masteriepcoach.

Lauren Tingle 32:55
Perfect. I know that they’re gonna find information valuable to them as high school counselors from you, but also maybe they’ll connect their special ed teacher that they work closely with to you. I mean, just a whole big educational network here. And I just want to say thank you for coming on High School Counseling Conversations. I appreciate it.

Catherine 33:41
Thank you so much for having me.

Lauren Tingle 33:42
I told you she was going to be a great guest and I hope that you feel the same way. After that conversation. I left feeling seen and heard after hearing what she had to say about high school counselors and their role at the IEP table. Thanks for listening to this week’s episode. I’ll see you again next week.

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