Last Updated on July 26, 2022 by Michelle Ball
By Michelle Ball, Sacramento California Expulsion, Special Education, sports/CIF, College, Education and School Attorney/Lawyer for Students since 1995
Section 504 plans (disability accommodation plans), can be important tools for students who qualify. Disability accommodations can bridge critical gaps, assist students to better access their classrooms, educational materials and instruction, to receive full credit for their knowledge and understanding, and to achieve to their full potential.
Real Nightmares for Students
I have met so many students who have had their 504 plans ignored or not carried out. This lack of 504 follow through can result in:
- Failing grades
- Truancy issues
- Hostility from school staff who were treating the student as “bad” when they were simply disabled
- Transfer to continuation school to make up credits
- Grade appeals, where the issue is that the grades would have been higher, had accommodations been done
- Discrimination complaints due to lack of implementing accommodations
- Student not wanting to go to school anymore
- Student being anxious, afraid, and thinking they cannot learn
- Impacts when applying to college, or not applying at all
- Behavior issues
- Other problems
All because 504 plans were not carried out, were partially carried out, or some teachers simply refused to implement them in their classrooms.
504 Accommodations Are Important
504 accommodations can sometimes seem small or insignificant, but they certainly are not small for a student who needs them.
Impacts can accumulate over time, negatively influencing a student in their belief in themselves, and their future, due to bad grades. A student whose 504 accommodations are not being implemented, may think it is them that is failing, not realizing that it is the school that is failing them, by ignoring their accommodations.
As a result, even though a student may have a wealth of knowledge or skills, these skills may not be able to be communicated adequately, resulting in lower grades.
Let’s discuss some common accommodations, and the potential impacts from not carrying them out in schools.
Failure to Allow Extra Time on Tests and Quizzes
A very common 504 accommodation is extra time on exams or quizzes. If the student’s 504 gives them double time, they would get two hours to complete a one hour test.
If extra time is not provided by the teacher, a student may not be able to adequately communicate their knowledge. The student would then be graded on work, done in half the time they should have had, and could receive a score not reflecting their actual knowledge.
If this student would have gotten an “A” on their test with extended time, maybe now they will get a “C” or even an “F.” This is an unfair grade, as their score would have been different had they been provided the time they were legally entitled to.
A student’s low test scores, due to lack of extra time, can result in a lower class grade and eventually a lower grade point average (gpa), reduction of scholarship chances, and lowered self esteem.
No Preferential Seating
Does the accommodation of preferential seating really matter? Yes, to the student who needs it.
Preferential seating may mean closest to the teacher, the front of the room, a supportive student, or even placement in the back of a classroom, depending on the individual student’s needs.
If a student needs to be in front or on a certain side of the class, but is seated in the back of the classroom, they may not be able to hear, may be distracted, or may not understand half of their instruction.
The student may become further and further behind due to this small accommodation failure. They may miss taking the notes for an upcoming test, as they missed critical verbal information, and their scores and grades may go down.
Late Work Not Accepted Without Penalty
Sometimes 504 plans include an accommodation of submitting work past the due date with no grade penalty. This means the student gets full credit for late work even if classroom policies vary. If teachers don’t implement this accommodation, it can be very problematic.
If a 504 student thereafter turns in work late, and doesn’t receive full credit, their grade may go down quickly. The student may then receive “F’s” on assignments when they should have received “A’s.” This lack of full credit can be devastating to their final grade.
Failure to Allow Oral Testing or Scribe
504 plans sometimes include an accommodation allowing students to provide verbal answers on tests, quizzes, and even homework. Sometimes they may also be provided with “scribing” where they tell their answers to someone and that person writes them down for the student.
If a teacher does not provide 504-required scribing or oral exams, the student may struggle to communicate their true knowledge. Maybe the student won’t be able to complete an examination, or has to shorten their answers, impacting their grade.
Being forced to write answers could also impact students with physical limitations and the student could end the class with severe pain in their arms, hands or even shoulders. The student may also feel anxious or stressed and have other negative impacts due to a teacher’s failure to accept oral answers.
No Extra Time During Passing Period
Sometimes disabled students need just a couple extra minutes during passing period. Maybe they physically walk slower, need to visit a counselor, or need a break to gather their thoughts. Whatever the reason, not allowing them to have their 504-required extended passing period can be very problematic.
Not only is a student thereafter marked “tardy” day after day by the teacher who fails to provide this accommodation, but the student may push themselves to try to be on time, which can have negative physical or emotional impacts.
Meanwhile, the student and their parents may be referred to the local truancy board, which involves police, social welfare and other agencies outside the school. This board may not believe the student had an “excuse” for being tardy 30 times (such as lack of 504 implementation at the school).
No Extra Breaks/Failure to Allow Break Card to Be Used
Sometimes a student is supposed to get automatic breaks at a certain time, or may have a laminated pass granting them the right to take breaks as needed, no questions asked.
If breaks are not honored, a student who has mental health difficulties or behavioral impacts, may break down in class, act out, or could even have a panic attack.
This could even lead to a recommendation for school suspension or expulsion depending on what the student does. And later, expulsion panels may be unsympathetic. Consequences can be far reaching.
No Teacher or Staff Check Ins
504 plans may contain some sort of teacher or other staff check in with a student to make sure they are understanding class material and instruction.
If this is not done, a student may become distracted or confused during class, not know what the homework assignment was, or not understand the class material.
They may then fail a quiz and may mistakenly think they are too “dumb” to understand, when in reality maybe the student just needed their history teacher to take the extra 30 seconds to help them with the material. It is not too much to ask, and teachers need to do it if it is in the student’s 504 plan.
Classroom Notes/Overheads Not Provided
What if a student is supposed to get teacher’s notes and print outs of overheads a week in advance but they are never provided?
This failure can result in a lack of adequate understanding of teacher lectures, failure to pass quizzes, failures on tests and failing of a class; simply because a teacher did not provide their notes as per a 504 plan.
Overall Impacts Can Extend Through a Lifetime
Simple accommodations, put into effect, can make a huge difference for a 504 student’s future, and their confidence that they can reach any goal or dream they have.
504 accommodations are not just something minor, although many schools treat them carelessly. Many students don’t actually have their 504 accommodations implemented in school, which is a true tragedy.
This failure can impact an entire life and the way that life will go.
Will the student know they are capable and that they can academically succeed regardless of their disabling condition? Or, will the student think they are a failure, think they are stupid, and get into drugs and crime? 504s matter, in more ways than one might think.
Michelle Ball, student attorney helps with 504 problems throughout California. Being an experienced education lawyer, with her office in Sacramento, she can reach throughout the state to San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Tahoe, Roseville, Mendocino and many other locales.