Last Updated on February 12, 2024 by Michelle Ball
By Michelle Ball, Sacramento California Expulsion, Special Education, sports/CIF, College, Education and School Attorney/Lawyer for Students since 1995
Are you a parent that just got a shiny student 504 plan in your child’s school? The 504 evaluation is done, the meeting is over, and the battle for proper accommodations was won. Now the student may have twelve beautiful accommodations. Now what?
Getting the 504 Plan is Just the Beginning
Once a parent actually HAS a 504 plan for a student, the fight has just begun. There is a difference between having a 504 plan on paper and actually getting it carried out in school. A few things stand between the 504 plan getting lost in a file with the thousands of other pieces of paper and being DONE…
Some barriers include the school staff, student understanding, and parent follow through.
The Teachers Must Be Handled
One of the biggest blocks standing between 504 implementation and non-implementation for a student is their teachers.
First, the teachers have to know about the student’s 504 plan. Sometimes they just plain don’t! Maybe the 504 plan was never sent to the teacher, the teacher missed it in their inbox, or the teacher was just “too busy” to read and understand what the 504 required. Or, maybe the teacher read the 504 plan, but forgot what the student’s accommodations are.
Sometimes teachers don’t think a 504 applies in “their class,” or can even have a secret grudge against 504 plans and really intend to NOT implement any student 504 plan. If the student has a hidden disability, sometimes teachers just do not agree the student actually needs the listed accommodations.
Due to the many issues teachers can have with 504 plans and carrying them out, parents need to follow up with all of the student’s teachers, to confirm they got the 504, answer their questions, discuss how the accommodations can be implemented, and develop a good relationship with the teacher.
Weekly email with the teachers about the student and the 504 may also be helpful, depending on the teacher. Teachers are key to 504 plans being done effectively or not done at all.
Other School Staff Have to Know About the 504
Once the teachers are tackled, a parent has to deal with other school staff. What if the student has to take more frequent breaks and may run into hall monitors? What if the student may need to take an exam in a special location or the school office? Will the relevant school staff know what to do or the accommodations to make?
If school staff may be important for the student and their 504 plan, parents may want to reach out and discuss the 504 with them in a discrete way.
The 504 Coordinator Must Do Their Job
Every school is supposed to have a staff member, often a school administrator (Vice Principal, Principal, etc.), or maybe a special education staff member, who oversees 504 plans and their implementation as the “504 Coordinator.” It is critical that the 504 Coordinator take responsibility for the student’s 504, notifying key school staff, and ensuring the 504 plan is implemented.
Does this happen? Well, I don’t work in schools, but my suspicion is that maybe the 504 Coordinator emails the 504 plan to teachers and is done. If this occurs, the parents role of follow-through becomes even more important.
Parents can help this process by developing a good relationship with the school 504 Coordinator and ensuring they have communicated about it and are getting the 504 plan implemented. If a parent finds a student accommodation is not actually being done, the parent can reach out to the 504 Coordinator for help.
The Student Has to Know What Accommodations They Have
Students also have a role, which may increase with age and responsibility levels.
Sometimes students have 504 plans they are not aware of. For example, a parent gets a student a 504 plan, and only relies on school staff to implement it, without telling the student the accommodations they have. This is problematic as if the student does not know what accommodations they are supposed to be getting they cannot ask for them from their teachers.
Students who don’t know their own 504 accommodations also cannot report to their parents when the 504 is not being done.
It is necessary that students know about their own 504 plans and what they contain, so the student can tell their parents when they don’t get their accommodations, and the parent can communicate with the 504 Coordinator, teacher(s) or school staff as needed.
Follow Through and Monitor
After teachers, school staff and the student know about the 504 plan, parents are not done. They still have to monitor the enforcement and implementation of student accommodations. Parents can talk to the student, arrange for a school visit, monitor grades, and simply ask teachers and staff.
If things don’t get done, the 504 Coordinator should ensure they do. A 504 meeting can also be called to discuss what is going on.
If this does not work, the school district can be involved, or a disability discrimination complaint may be filed.
Don’t Let the 504 Plan Go on Auto-pilot
504 Plan success comes from communication and not just letting it go on auto-pilot. A parent has to ensure that the 504 plan is being done, or it is just another pointless piece of paper.
Sacramento California student lawyer Michelle Ball has assisted California students with 504 and special education problems since the 1990s from Merced to Chico, to San Diego, San Francisco, Auburn, Salinas, Roseville, Suisun City and beyond.