Special Education/Disability

1. My child has a disability? What assistance may be available to him/her at school?

There are two main types of support that a child with a disability may be able to receive: (1) Individualized Education Program (IEP) (2) Section 504 Plan

2. Are school districts required to assist children who have disabilities?

Yes. This requirement is called “child find.” School districts are required to identify, locate, and evaluate all children with disabilities and determine if those children are in need of special education and related services.

3. What is an IEP?

An IEP is an Individualized Education Program. In North Carolina, children who receive special education are considered Exceptional Children (“EC”). Each EC student has an IEP that outlines the services and accommodations the child will receive in school.

4. Who is part of an IEP team?

The IEP team must include the parent, a regular education teacher, a special education teacher, and a representative from the school district (called the Local Educational Agency representative).



Parents are allowed to invite people to attend. If the parent brings an attorney, the parent must give notice in writing to the school several days before the meeting that an attorney will be attending the meeting. The school district will then also have an attorney present.

5. How do I request an IEP for my child?

To request an IEP for your child, contact the school in writing (through an email or a letter) and ask for your child to be tested for an IEP. You should send the letter/email to your child’s principal, teacher, and/or other school professional. Make sure that you keep a copy of your letter or email for yourself.

Once the school receives your letter, the school has 90 calendar days to complete the evaluation process, determine if your child is eligible for an IEP, and develop the initial IEP.

6. What should I do to prepare for an IEP meeting?

The most important thing you can do is to attend the meeting and participate. As a parent, you know your child’s strengths and weaknesses the best, so it is essential for you to prepare for, attend, and advocate for your child at the meeting. If you cannot attend the meeting at the school’s suggested date and time, let the school know as soon as possible in writing. Make sure you provide the school with times when you would be available to meet. If it is not possible for you to attend in person, request to participate on the phone.

To prepare for the meeting, you should:

  • Think about goals you want your child to accomplish in school this year, and questions you have for the school staff during the meeting. Write down your questions, concerns, and suggestions before the meeting.
  • Review any current assessments, testing, school reports, and the most recent IEP
  • Request and review your child’s education records.

At the meeting, you should:

  • Bring a trusted person with you, such as your spouse, partner, relative, neighbor, or friend. This will provide you with a support system and another set of ears to hear what others have said. If you decide to bring an attorney, inform the school in writing beforehand.
  • Ask questions and seek clarification throughout the meeting. Do not be afraid to stop the meeting to ask these questions or state concerns. Your concerns are important and time should be devoted to fully discuss them.
  • Remember that the “I” in IEP stands for “INDIVIDUALIZED,” meaning it must be individualized to your child’s needs. Keep the team focused on your child’s unique needs. • Enter every meeting with a smile, and remember to thank the teacher.
  • Make sure that everything the school is promising to do for your child is written down on the IEP paperwork. If it is not written into the IEP document, assume it is not going to happen.
  • Get copies of all documents before you leave.

7. My child attends a CMS school and I am have difficulty working with special education staff at the school. Are there other resources in the district that may be helpful?

Yes, there are other resources in the district to help you advocate for your child. It is often helpful to have the Exceptional Children (EC) Community Coordinator get involved to help resolve issues at the school level. The EC Community Coordinators work for the CMS Learning Communities. Each home school belongs to a Learning Community; you can find out what Learning Community oversees your home school online or by asking school staff.



To find out who is the assigned EC Community Coordinator is for your school’s Learning Community, go to the Contact Information page of the CMS Exceptional Children’s Department website.


8. What is a Section 504 Plan?

A Section 504 Plan allows a child with a disability to receive accommodations and modifications that are not available to non-disabled children. Examples of accommodations and modifications are: extended time to complete tests or assignments, assignment modifications, and/or preferential seating. To receive a Section 504 plan, the child must have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. Major life activities include things such as learning, concentrating, reading, and communicating. For example, ADHD is a mental impairment that often substantially limits a child’s ability to concentrate and learn.

9. Where can I learn more about the Section 504 plan process for CMS?

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has a detailed Section 504 Plan Handbook. You can find it on the CMS website under the Section 504 page 

10. What is the difference between an IEP Plan and a Section 504 Plan?

An IEP allows a child to receive specialized instruction from a special education teacher. A Section 504 Plan, however, is for children with disabilities who do not require specialized instruction, but need accommodations in their regular classrooms to make sure they have access to their education. An IEP is a much bigger document that includes annual goals for a child, while a Section 504 Plan only contains the accommodations and modifications the child will receive.

11. My child has a disability and keeps getting suspended. What do I do?

It is important to keep track of how many days of out-of-school suspension your child has received each school year. Once your child has been suspended for more than 10 days in a school year, the school must hold a special meeting called a Manifestation Determination Review (“MDR”). (See next question). It is very important to attend this meeting.


Even if your child has not been suspended for over 10 school days this school year, you can request an IEP meeting or Section 504 meeting to discuss the suspensions and brainstorm about what support your child may need to avoid future suspensions. At this meeting, request a Functional Behavioral Analysis (“FBA”) and a Behavior Intervention Plan (“BIP”) for your child. Review the “What is a Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA)?”and “What is a Behavioral Intervention Plan (BIP)?” FAQs for more information.

12. What is a Manifestation Determination Review (MDR)?

When a child with an IEP or Section 504 Plan has been suspended for more than 10 cumulative (total) days in a school year, it is considered a change in placement. This triggers a Manifestation Determination Review (MDR) meeting that must be held within 10 school days of the most recent suspension.

At the MDR, the IEP Team or Section 504 Team must ask the following three questions:

  • Was the conduct that resulted in the suspension caused by the child’s disability?
  • Did the conduct that resulted in the suspension have a direct or substantial relationship to the child’s disability?
  • Was the conduct that resulted in the suspension a direct result of the school district’s failure to implement the IEP/Section 504 Plan?

If the answer to any of the three questions is yes, the behavior in question must be considered a manifestation of the child’s disability.

If the team determines that it is a manifestation of the child’s disability, the team must:

  • Allow the child to immediately return to school and not serve the remainder of the suspension days
  • Conduct and/or review a Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA), and
  • Develop a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) for the child.

If the team determines that the behavior is not a manifestation of the child’s disability, the school may use the regular disciplinary procedures applicable to children without disabilities.

13. What is a Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA)?

A Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA) is used to help the IEP or Section 504 Team figure out why the child’s behaviors are happening and what interventions will address the behaviors. The results of the FBA should be used when writing the Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP).

14. What is a Behavior Intervention Plan?

A Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) is an agreement between the school and your child. This plan describes how the school will help your child learn to change his/her problem behavior to be more successful in school. Effective BIPs consist of multiple interventions and/or support strategies designed to specifically address your child’s needs. These interventions and strategies are not punishment. Positive BIPs help children learn different skills they can use in school to be more successful. These skills are taught to the child for the purpose of decreasing or eliminating the child’s problem behavior(s).

15. Where can I learn more about IEPs and Section 504 Plans?

a) WrightsLaw 

The WrightsLaw website has a significant amount of information about special education and Section 504 plans. You can sign up for their newsletter and search through their online library of information.

(b) The Exceptional Children’s Department of NC Department of Public Instruction

The Exceptional Children’s Department of NC Department of Public Instruction contains information about special education in North Carolina. It also contains information about how to file a state complaint, request a facilitated IEP meeting, request mediation, and file a due process petition.

(c) U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs’ (OSEP’s) IDEA Website

This web site has a wealth of information on special education law, including the language of the federal law, presentations, and questions and answers.

(d) The Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education

The Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education’s website contains information about Section 504, including the procedures for filing an OCR Disability Discrimination Complaint.

(e) Disability Rights North Carolina

The Disability Rights North Carolina website contains self-advocacy resources on several topics, including education.

(f) Youth Justice North Carolina Youth Justice North Carolina’s website contains publications concerning education issues of national, state, and local attention, with an emphasis on school discipline.  

Click on images below to explore other topics.

More Tips - General Education

More Tips - Mental Health

More Tips - School Discipline / Bullying

More Tips - Delinquency

Email Newsletters And Policy Updates

Sign up here to receive our monthly e-newsletter and/or policy updates on issues affecting children.


Please review our Community Resources list

For additional resources and agencies that may assist you with these and other questions.


Pin It on Pinterest

Share This