Special Education

California’s foster youth qualify for special education services at twice the rate of the general student population, with nearly 1 of every 5 foster youth identified as a student with a disability. East Bay Children’s Law Office’s Education Advocacy Program advocates on behalf of Alameda County foster youth receiving or in need of special education services wherever they may be placed.


What’s the Difference Between an IEP and a 504 Plan?

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act is an anti-discrimination law designed to provide equal access to students with disabilities by removing barriers to their learning. A student qualifies for a 504 plan if s/he has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits learning or another major life activity. 504 plans are enforceable through the Office of Civil Rights.

Individualized Education Plans (“IEPs”) are governed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA.”) IDEA is designed to provide specialized instruction and related services to meet the unique educational needs of students with disabilities. A student qualifies for an IEP if s/he has a disability falling into one of 13 specified eligibility categories and requires specialized instruction or services to benefit from her/his education. Disputes regarding eligibility and services under an IEP are typically resolved via Due Process procedures. Complaints regarding non-compliance with IDEA can also be filed with California’s Department of Education.

Click here for a resource about the relationship between IEPs and 504s.

Click here for information on parents’ rights under IDEA.

How Do I Request an IEP Assessment?

Anyone, including social workers, probation officers, and other service providers, can request an initial assessment for a student. The request must be in writing and should be dated.

Once the school has a written request, they have 15 calendar days to either formulate an assessment plan for the student or produce a Prior Written Notice denying evaluation. The student’s educational rights holder will need to sign off on the assessment plan in order to authorize the school district to begin conducting the initial psycho-educational evaluation. Once the school has a signed assessment plan, they have 60 days to complete the assessment and hold the initial IEP eligibility meeting. If the school district denies an evaluation, the educational rights holder can challenge that decision via Due Process proceedings.

Click here to view sample assessment request letters.

What are Educationally Related Mental Health Services (ERMHS)?

School districts are responsible for providing educationally related mental health services to any student with a disability needing mental health services in order to benefit from their education. These services are not limited to students who receive special education services due to an emotional disturbance. These services can include counseling, parent counseling and training, psychological services, social work services, and residential placements.

Click here for more information on school mental health services and responsibilities.

Helpful Resources

EBCLO’s Special Education Toolkit

This toolkit from EBCLO is a resource for social workers, probation officers, lawyers, and caregivers to protect foster and probation youth rights and to help qualifying students navigate successfully through the sometimes complicated world of special education.

Special Education Fact Sheet

This fact sheet from the California Foster Youth Education Task Force answers key questions and discusses eligibility, timelines, and procedures.

Additional Links


EBCLO’s Education Advocacy Program works to help youth succeed in school.

School Stability

EBCLO’s Education Advocacy Program works to reduce the negative impact of school disruptions on Alameda County foster youth through enforcement of their school stability rights.

School Discipline

EBCLO’s Education Advocacy Program provides direct legal representation for our clients in school expulsion and suspension proceedings with the goal of protecting school stability and strengthening school engagement.