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Crash Course on Public School Accommodations

A series of four articles to teach you how to navigate the public school system for accommodations for your child under a 504 plan

PART 1: An Overveiw of the 504 Plan Process

If your school-aged child has been diagnosed with a specific learning or attention disorder, you have probably seen the impact of the disorder on your child’s academic progress. Until now, you may have had mixed results in getting the support your child needs in public school. With the doctor’s diagnosis, however, you may request eligibility for a legally binding, formal accommodations plan under Section 504 of The Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

In brief, a 504 plan provides your child in public school with specific accommodations to “level the playing field” when your child is symptomatic. (Private schools may also write 504 plans, but most will provide accommodations without the formal process outlined in federal law.) Pursuing a 504 plan requires that you submit the required documentation from a doctor or psychologist and attend a meeting that includes you, your child, the 504 coordinator at the school, your child’s teachers, and possibly other school personnel, such as the counselor or school nurse.

Begin the process by asking for the name and contact information of the 504 coordinator at the school. Contact this person regarding the documentation you will need to provide to the school. This may be as simple as a one-page form that the school provides for the doctor to state the diagnosis and explain how it may impact your child in school. Once you return the documentation, schedule a 504 meeting with the coordinator. If you are requesting a meeting at the beginning of the school year, expect to wait five to eight weeks; this allows your child’s teachers to observe your child’s performance and record any accommodations provided to compensate for documented deficits.

While you wait for the meeting date to arrive, write down the ways you have seen your child struggle in school as a result of all diagnosed disorders. Next, do an online search for “school accommodations for (name of disorder)” to get ideas for accommodations that may work.  In addition, ask your child for his or her suggestions. Write down any ideas that come from this discussion. the prepare a list of accommodations that you would like to request to help your child have equal access to learning in the school setting. 

Please note that some accommodations you may find with an online search are available only for students receiving special education services. See the next article in this series for the differences between a 504 and an IEP. More details on how to develop the best accommodations are available in the third article.

The key to developing appropriate accommodations is to identify ways in which your child is unable to perform at the level of his or her peers without such accommodations. If your child’s diagnosis has no apparent educational impact (e.g., lower grades on tests due to the impact of the disorder), the law prohibits the development of accommodations under a 504 plan. Even if the doctor recommends extended time on a test, the teachers must report that your child does not finish tests in the time provided and needs extra time to demonstrate his or her knowledge. Accommodations are created to level the playing field, but they cannot provide an advantage that is not available to other students. Accommodations also do not maximize potential, so a “B student” performing at the level of his or her peers cannot get accommodations for the sole purpose of earning an A.

The day before the 504 eligibility meeting, review your notes. On a new page, make two bulleted lists: one listing your concerns about your child’s academic performance and another listing the accommodations you would like to request. During the course of the 504 meeting, these lists will allow you to participate fully in the discussion as you, the teachers, the 504 coordinator and other personnel work together to determine if your child requires accommodations. If so, together the team will develop accommodations that will work. These are documented in a formal 504 plan that is signed by all team members. It goes into effect immediately, and school personnel must provide the accommodations under federal law. The 504 plan should be reviewed annually. If any new concerns arise before then, you may request an amendment meeting at any time to discuss accommodations for new symptoms or additional diagnoses.

Keep a copy of the most recent 504 plan and check in with your child to ensure that it is being followed. If there are any problems with implementation, contact the teacher first. If not resolved, contact the 504 coordinator and follow up to be sure the plan is followed.

Next article: 504 vs. IEP

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