Summer is more than half-way over and school will be starting in the next month or so. Hopefully summer has been filled with many adventures and interesting learning opportunities for your kids. For many families, winding down the summer means more than just getting kids back into a routine and buying school supplies – it also means preparing for a 504 meeting. Here is an overview of the 504 law, as well as some tips and tricks to navigating the process.
What is Section 504?
Section 504 is a federal law designed to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities in programs and activities that receive Federal financial assistance from the U.S. A 504 meeting occurs when the parents and/or school believe that a student would benefit from special accommodations in school, due to a mild disability or chronic illness that does not require services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). (For an overview of the differences between IDEA, 504 and The American with Disabilities Act, check this out.)
What conditions are covered under Section 504?
To be protected under Section 504, a student must be determined to:
- have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life function like their ability to:
- walk, breathe, eat, or sleep
- communicate, see, hear, or speak
- read, concentrate, think, or learn
- stand, bend, lift, or work;
- have a record of such an impairment; or
- be regarded as having such an impairment.
Because of the difficulty managing a specific list of conditions covered under this law, The US Department of Education describes the physical or mental impairments covered by Section 504 as:
- any physiological disorder or condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or anatomical loss affecting one or more of the following body systems:
- special sense organs;
- including speech organs;
- hemic and lymphatic;
- skin; and
- any mental or psychological disorder, such as:
- mental retardation,
- organic brain syndrome,
- emotional or mental illness, and
- specific learning disabilities.
What should the 504 Plan look like?
The 504 Plan is a list of specific accommodations, modifications, supports and services that will be provided to your child. Ideally, the 504 plan will also:
- Identify who will provide the accommodations,
- Name the person responsible for ensuring the plan is implemented,
- Is distributed to all of the child’s teachers, specialists, and support staff,
- Is placed in the child’s school file, and
- Is reviewed at least annually.
How do I know if my child needs accommodations?
Sometimes, as a parent, you know what’s going on with your kids; other times, you have a vague sense that something may be amiss. If you are still trying to pinpoint the specific problem disrupting your child’s learning ability, The National Center for Learning Disabilities put together a great graphic organizer to help you identify your concerns and develop a plan for further evaluation.
In order to write a 504 plan for your child, the school district is required to conduct an assessment of his/her disability. A district staff member who is knowledgeable about your child, the evaluation criteria and data and placement options will lead the evaluation process. Sources of data for the evaluation may include: aptitude testing, achievement tests, teacher reports, medical professional’s reports, and your child’s adaptive behaviors. If you have had independent testing, you may provide this material to the school for inclusion in the evaluation process.
What are accommodations?
Accommodations typically fall into major categories:
- Presentation – how the learning material is presented
- Response – how the student responds to the assignment. Assistive technologies like recording classroom presentations, using a calculator, or typing assignments or using voice recognition software for written assignments, can be helpful here.
- Setting – what is the environment in which the student is working/taking a test
- Timing – does the student need extra time on assignments or tests? Does the student need extra breaks?
- Organizational – does the student need support organizing homework and study materials? Assistive technologies like calendars, homework planners, or even taking a photo of the homework assignment, can be helpful here.
Deciding which accommodations will make the most difference for your child is hard. Hopefully you can work collaboratively with your child’s teacher and school counselor. Your child’s pediatrician, medical specialist, or therapist will also have great ideas (and can send a recommended list of accommodations to your school counselor).