Parents talk freely about 504 Plans and seem to be comforted when their child receives one.
What is largely forgotten (or never understood) is the fact that 504 Plans were an outgrowth of ADA (Americans with Disability Act) legislation. As ADA noted about addressing those with disabilities:
“No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States, as defined in section 705(20) of this title, shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance or under any program or activity.”
With regard to schools, “FAPE” is the guiding principle
“Section 504 requires school districts to provide Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) to children with disabilities, who may benefit from public education, within the individual district’s jurisdiction. Regardless of the child’s disability, the school district must identify the child’s educational needs and provide any regular or special education to satisfy the child’s educational needs just as well as it does for the children without disabilities.”
My interpretation of the spirit of the law is the notion of “leveling the playing field,” to the extent that those with a “disability” need some type of external assistance to help the child to function as close as possible to their non-disabled peers.
The assumption is that the disability puts the disabled person at a decided disadvantage in the classroom. In theory a 504 Plan addresses this disadvantage.
That was the intent. The reality of 504 Plans is often entirely different.
For schools, the vast majority of the kids given 504 Plans are ones diagnosed (on the outside by a medical practitioner) with ADHD. (A learning disabled child is given an IEP based on special education testing, not a 504 Plan.)
Twenty or so years ago or so, getting a diagnosis from a neurologist or other medical practitioner was somewhat novel and even a bit on the exotic side. It didn’t occur all that frequently.
Now legions of children are diagnosed with ADHD/ADD and schools are overwhelmed by requests for 504 Plans. Here’s an article that documents studies citing a doubling of the children diagnosed with ADHD (ADHD Doubling in Percentages) over a 20 year period.
Most 504 Plans (at least on paper) offer the child extended time, possible preferential seating and the potential to have material read to the child. There are other accommodations that sometimes appear in a 504, but these are the common ones.
While parents may be comforted by the 504 Plan, it is my impression that most kids I know don’t want extra time and they reject the idea of preferential seating for fear of being singled out and embarrassed.
Do I think 504 Plans have some value? Sure. However, 504 Plans are almost impossible to monitor. There is no objective way of showing that the teacher “repeated directions,” for example, to a confused, distracted child.
I maintain the key to its success is in the relationship the parent establishes with the teacher. If the parent can establish a good working relationship with the child’s teacher, then a 504 Plan can be implemented with some fidelity.
Without the relationship, the 504 becomes a fairly meaningless document that often receives minimal compliance or attention. In other words, the plan is nice on paper and parents feel they’ve gotten something of value, but they don’t do all that much.
With a good working relationship between parent and teacher, there is usually a more open dialogue that takes place. In this dialogue, the teacher might say, “Oh, yes, I check in with him through the day. I know he needs to have directions clarified a lot, so I remind myself to do it. I also let him go past time limits when he needs it, but I don’t make a big deal of it.”
Bingo. The playing field is leveled.
Take Away Point
To maximize the odds of a 504 Plan being implemented, establish a good, trusting relationship with the child’s teacher as early in the school year as possible. Don’t be overly clinical in your conversation with the teacher. Speak in plain language, conveying what you think the child needs to make things a bit easier for him/her in the classroom.
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