Section 504 Plan : Accomodations NOT Special Education
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a civil rights law established to prohibit discrimination and provide the resources necessary to encourage the academic success of students with disabilities.
A student is eligible for a 504 plan if they have a physical or mental impairment that significantly limits major life activities. In this case, school. The "rules" governing Section 504 guidelines are not really rules but guidelines used by the school team who ultimately determines a child's eligibility.
So why a Section 504 plan and not special education?
Section 504 affords a student the necessary rights, protection, and modification without the rigidity of special education law and the stigma that might accompany special ed placement.
And I only mention the stigma issue because for some, this is a legitimate concern. My son rides "the short bus," LITERALLY, and I worry about his self contained placement and it's impact on his future. But for now, the benefits far outweigh the risks.
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The interpretation and subsequent implementation of a 504 plan might vary by state and school district. So if this is something you think you need to explore, you should check with your Department of Education or local school.
But for the purposes of this discussion, any child with a condition like ADHD, bipolar disorder, conduct disorder, Tourette Syndrome, and major health challenges like diabetes or asthma, can receive a 504 plan if their condition impacts their ability to receive equal educational opportunities.
So what does a 504 give you?
Depending on your child's issue, the modifications could be a number of things, including:
Additional time for tasks or no time limits at all
Breaking tasks into shorter pieces
Additional verbal or written instructions or directions
Advance notice of due dates
Allowing breaks from class for movement
Shortening of assignments, both in class and homework
Assistance with getting homework assignments written down as opposed to expecting the child do it independently
The use of computers, calculators, or other tools to compensate for difficulty
Daily notes to parents for communication
Alternative testing methods like allowing student to dictate answers, reading of written direction, extended time for test
Allowing an extra set of text books to be kept at home
Also allows for the official use of a
to help address behavioral concerns with positive reinforcement
Any modifications afforded to your child are supposed to "level the playing field" so to speak. They should allow your student to find the same success that other children without disabilities achieve.
My own professional experience with 504 plans
In my experience, schools do not love to do these. They can be a lot of work and if loaded with information, I think they feel overwhelming to an already taxed teacher when trying to implement it properly.
I have found that at the elementary school level, many modifications you might want, teachers are willing to do without the "officiality" of a 504. Teachers want students to succeed so they will provide preferential seating. They will shorten assignments when they know a child understands a concept. They will sometimes allow them to test separately, during lunch or recess, so they can read instructions and allow more time for completion.
A 504 becomes necessary when you ARE NOT RECEIVING the kind of help your child needs to succeed. They are also a good idea if you have found successful interventions that you wish to be continued when moving from one school to another.
I also suspect that at the middle/junior and high school level, they are absolutely necessary to protect a child's rights and ensure consistency in treatment.
If you want a 504 plan and the school team tries to talk you out of it because they are already doing the modifications, assure them that you know they are but that you want it in your child's record in the event that circumstances change and you move or a new teacher in a future year is less willing to comply.
REMEMBER, for qualifying students, a 504 cannot be denied so don't drop the issue if it is important to your child's success
Also, a 504 is NOT a special education document. Therefore, the school's special ed staff, like resource teachers and psychologist, do NOT have to be involved in the process. Many schools have a 504 Coordinator who helps the parent and the teacher develop the plan and complete the appropriate paperwork.
If you are already getting or feel you might get resistence from the school...
As a last resort you can consider an advocate of sorts. Some psychologists or practitioners will either employ people, or will themselves attend, any school meetings with you to advocate on behalf of your child and their rights. Something to consider if you feel you aren't getting the cooperation you need.