Is a 504 Plan Enough to Help My Special Needs Child?
Section 504 is a Federal Law that provides for accommodations for people with disabilities. The law requires that any entity receiving federal funding must accommodate people with disabilities. Public schools fall under this category. The accommodations must provide for access to the program. So, what does that mean? Well, that means that any student with a disability or suspected disability should be provided with accommodations or services to allow that student to access and make progress in the program.
I have worked with many students that are on Section 504 Plans. Yet when I start to talk to their parents about the plan, many of them don’t know what it is or what it’s supposed to do. They sometimes think it is an IEP (Individual Education Program). It’s not. The 504 plan only provides accommodations and sometimes services to allow the student access. For example: If a student has a physical disability and is confined to a wheelchair, the school would provide ramps, elevators, adaptive equipment (wheelchair accessible desk) and services could be physical therapy or an assistant to help the student to navigate throughout the school. There is no educational component to the plan as there is in an IEP. If the disability affects the student’s ability to learn and make progress in the curriculum and the student needs specialized instruction, then the student should be on an IEP.
Some accommodations that can be found on a 504 plan are:
- Preferential seating
- Opportunities for movement
- Extra time on assignments and tests
- Separate testing area
- Extra set of books
- Lecture notes provided
- Large assignments broken down
- Extra time to get to and from classes
- Use of a calculator
This list is just a small sample of accommodations that can be listed on a plan. The accommodations should assist the student and should be reviewed and changed, if necessary, once a year. If you feel that the accommodation plan is not sufficient to help your child, reconvene the team to determine if your child in fact needs an IEP.
Teachers are supposed to follow this plan and provide the accommodations listed, however, don’t assume that the teacher can know every child on every plan. I always recommend to my clients that they meet with the teacher at the beginning of the school year. Usually a few weeks after school starts, call and request a meeting with the teacher(s) and the guidance counselor. Bring a copy of the 504 plan with you and talk to them about your child. Explain how your child learns and what he needs. Make sure that you explain that you are there to help and not to complain. I find that teachers appreciate parents that are involved and care about their children. Teachers find it very helpful to get a better picture of a child than what is written on a 504. Also, plan to meet with the teacher in the middle of the school year to see how things are going. But provide the teacher with your contact information so that any problems that come up can be communicated to you right away.
You should also plan to meet towards the end of the school year to see how things have gone. What accommodations have helped what ones are no longer needed and if there is some that should be added? This allows you to plan for the summer and the next school year as well.
The Federal Law, Section 504 provides for your child with a disability in public school because schools receive Federal funding. Colleges that receive Federal funding also must provide accommodations. Check with your College’s Pupil Services Department for services that are provided. Accommodations provide children a level playing field with typical peers. Allowing students with disabilities an opportunity to make progress and learn.