Two federal laws protect children's right to a free and appropriate education in the least restrictive environment: the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (504 Plan). IDEA is a special education provision which requires that a child be evaluated and receive a special education label in order to receive services. While in the past children with anxiety were typically given the label, Social Emotional Disturbance(SED), more schools are recognizing anxiety and other common childhood disorders as neuro-behavioral and therefore are considered as Other Health Impairment (OHI). In order to qualify for services under IDEA, children must be evaluated to document the adverse effects of their anxiety on their school experience. Schools may initiate this process, but parents can also bring their concerns to a school guidance counselor and request that an evaluation be conducted. Following evaluation, an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) will be written with input from teachers, evaluators, therapists and parents. A requirement of the IEP is that parents must participate and approve the IEP and must provide their consent for testing. The goals of the IEP must specify measurable objectives to be reviewed annually. Once written, parents must be satisfied with the IEP before they sign it, sometimes parents choose to include an educational advocate in the process. These specialists may be attorneys, or not, and can be located on the web through a variety of organizations, just enter key words "special education advocate."
Children who either do not qualify for IDEA, or if families do not wish to have their child go through the special education classification process (or school is not recommending this), they may be eligible for services under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, a civil rights statute that protects the rights of children with disabilities from discrimination and makes provisions for reasonable accommodations. A 504 plan may be written without the extensive testing required for an IEP, the goals do not have to have specific measurable objectives, and no specific timeline for retesting or re-evaluation is required. A 504 plan offers a faster, more flexible, potentially less stigmatizing way of accessing needed services for your child, however, because there are no requirements for parental involvement or measurable goals, a 504 may lack the influence at school that an IEP provides.