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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 3: Developing Stellar Accommodations

 

As you prepare for your upcoming 504 eligibility meeting, it is important for you to know which accommodations your child needs and to request them specifically. Eligibility for a 504 plan with accommodations is determined by the 504 team, comprising the 504 coordinator, parents, teachers, your child’s counselor, the school nurse (preferably an RN), and your child if he is in the seventh grade or higher.

Some parents hesitate to bring their children to these meetings, but it is to your child’s advantage. Everyone softens a little when young people describe how their disorder inhibits their learning. Furthermore, your child will be available immediately to answer specific questions about his experience in the classroom and to respond to suggestions the other team members may have about accommodations.

Whether or not your child attends the meeting, you will need your child’s assistance prior to the meeting to create a list of ways that hypersomnia affects her learning and to suggest supports that may help. Ask your child how and when his or her symptoms make learning more difficult. Are there certain school tasks that are more difficult than others (e.g., note taking, testing, homework completion)? How does the time of day, where they sit in the classroom, or type of assignment make a difference? What other impact does he or she observe?

After creating this list, wait a couple of days before beginning the next step. Your child will be more aware of the educational impact of the disorder and may recognize additional ways in which his or her learning is affected. Add these to your list.

The next step is to work with your child to brainstorm supports that will make each area of concern less problematic. Remember that, under the law, accommodations are not provided to allow superior performance; they level the playing field, giving your child an equal opportunity to learn, but not an advantage over other students. Your child’s disorder must have a demonstrable negative impact on learning. This does not mean your child must be failing classes, but to be eligible for accommodations under federal law, your child must be performing below the level of his or her peers in the same course.

So what kinds of accommodations are available? There’s not a predetermined list to choose from because each 504 plan is specific to each child’s needs. Some of the most common accommodations include extended time on tests, preferential seating near the source of instruction in the classroom, and copies of class presentations/notes. An online search for accommodations for your child’s diagnosis will provide you with an abundance of ideas to draw from if you are struggling to come up with your own. Remember to focus on developing accommodations that level the academic playing field for your child. If your child is already performing as well as his or her peers, the school cannot legally provide accommodations. 

Prior to the meeting, make a brief, bulleted list of your concerns about your child’s learning and the accommodations you think would be most helpful. You will take these notes with you to the meeting so you may fully engage in the discussion with other members of the 504 team. Also, consider providing the 504 coordinator with this information a few days before the meeting. This will help the meeting move more quickly and keep it focused on accommodating your child. Furthermore, when you develop your list of requested accommodations, you become a more confident, informed, and assertive advocate for your child, making it more likely that your child will get the needed accommodations.

Some 504 meetings go smoothly, whereas others feel like battlefields. During a difficult meeting, you may feel frustrated, helpless or battered, but try not to show it. You will get the best results when you present a calm, assertive, and respectful demeanor. Everyone wants the best for your child, even if it doesn’t feel that way in the moment.

At the end of the meeting, if you think that your child requires additional accommodations, calmly state your concerns and request the name of the person you may contact to discuss it further, which will likely be someone at the district level. If at any time you need more assistance, contact an educational consultant or lawyer with experience in 504 plans to review the accommodations and help you determine the next step.

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