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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 4: Squeaky Wheel Strategies

You completed your child’s 504 meeting and developed a plan, and, in a perfect world, your work would be finished. The reality, however, is that you may need to ensure that all teachers are aware of the accommodations and are consistently implementing them. This is especially critical if your child’s schedule changes or if a new teacher arrives mid-year. Follow these steps to make sure implementation goes smoothly.

After the 504 meeting, get a copy of the finalized 504 plan and send a brief email to the teachers and all other meeting attendees. You should thank them for their time and input and include the list of finalized accommodations. Mention that you will check in occasionally via email for quick updates on your child’s progress and how well the accommodations are meeting his or her needs. It is easier for teachers to respond to your email than it is for them to remember to contact you regularly. Put reminders in your calendar so you don’t forget to check in.

In addition, check in with your child periodically to ask how the accommodations are working. Ask for more information if your child has complaints, but take a breath before going on the warpath. There is another side to the story, and your child may not have accurately assessed the situation. Send an email directly to the teacher or schedule a phone call or meeting (don’t show up unannounced) to discuss any concerns you have about implementation. Stay calm and respectful in your communications, and don’t go to the department chair or principal before speaking with the teacher first. If you are concerned that there is a problem that remains unresolved after speaking with the teacher, contact the 504 coordinator. If there is still no resolution, contact the school principal.

Document all of your communication about your child’s 504 plan. To make this easier, communicate primarily via email so that everything is documented. Copy yourself on emails and save all emails from school personnel. If a conversation happens by phone or in person, follow up that day with an email to thank that person for speaking with you and to summarize the main points of your conversation. Always communicate calmly and respectfully, follow the chain of command, and attempt to resolve any problems at the lowest level possible. Copying the district superintendent on every email will not work in your favor.

When the plan is new, email the teachers every three to four weeks to request feedback on how the accommodations are working. Keep your communications brief and meaningful, and don’t expect a long response in return. Your email also provides an opportunity to give positive feedback to teachers; tell them if your child enjoyed the last project, lab, or novel. Also, thank the teachers for any “extras” they may have chosen to provide, such as giving your child an additional day beyond what is required in the 504 plan for submitting an assignment.

If you encounter problems, be respectful and assertive. Make a second contact if you do not get a response within 48 hours. Always follow the chain of command if a problem escalates, and continue to be respectful. Know that, at any time, you may schedule a meeting with individual teachers and the 504 coordinator if needed. You may also request an amendment meeting if changes need to be made to the accommodations in the plan. These steps will resolve most problems if you encounter them, but if you still have concerns, meet with a private educational consultant or lawyer to determine if and how to move forward.

Your last responsibility in this process is to prepare for the annual review. Initiate the appointment yourself approximately six weeks before the plan’s anniversary. You may get an appointment quickly, or you may have to wait, but either way, you can ensure that the meeting happens at an appropriate time. No meetings are scheduled during the summer months, and both the first six weeks and last four weeks of the school year are less than ideal times to meet. If possible, avoid meeting the day before a holiday break or the first day back. 

At least one week before the annual review meeting, collect any emails from teachers that include useful information about current accommodations. Follow the same process as you did for the initial eligibility meeting, but this time using the 504 plan accommodations as a point of reference. Ask teachers which accommodations are working well and which may need to be added, modified, or removed. As before, include your child in the process to maximize plan efficacy.

Making an effort to stay in touch with your child’s teachers will help teachers remember to provide the accommodations in the plan. Keep your communications periodic, brief, respectful, and succinct to maximize responses from teachers, and use your check-ins as an opportunity to build strong relationships with the teachers. Being the squeaky wheel in a strategic way is your best tool for supporting your child’s success.