What are some valuable guidelines within 504 Plan Michigan accommodations?
In that federal statute, 504 plans and their accommodations are put in place to protect individuals with disabilities from discrimination within the classroom or the confines of educational institutions. So, here are a couple of things to remember.
A 504 accommodation can include anything within the school environment. It can mean the general education classroom, a transition between classes, transportation to and from school, the cafeteria, and extracurricular activities. The National Center for Learning Disabilities provides further insights into these accommodations.
A 504 plan can include all those things. We’ll remember those building blocks as we go through valuable guidelines. And here are some other useful things to remember and just some suggestions.
In my opinion, if you feel that your child may have a disability or they may need some accommodation, you first want to look at the definition within the 504 statute. And it says that for a child to qualify for 504 plan accommodations, they must have some physical or mental impairment that substantially limits major life activity.
So, what does this look like? It means that the child can have any diagnosis.
504 is different from an IEP. In IEP, a child may have to have a qualifying disability within the 13 categories that the federal statutes for that layout. But with a 504 plan, you’re not limited. So, it can be a diagnosis, disability, or anything that just mentally or physically impairs the student.
The second part, though, that you want to remember is that just because you have a diagnosis, it doesn’t mean the school will grant the accommodations.
That diagnosis or disability must limit a major life activity substantially. It’s something in the classroom, so this could be physical. They may have difficulty with parts of their body functioning in school or transitioning. So, what would this look like? Maybe a child is in a wheelchair. They need OT therapy, physical therapy—things like that. Or perhaps mental impairment like anxiety disorders, ODD, ADHD, and ADD.
If it substantially limits the student’s ability to learn within the classroom, then the 504 plan accommodations would come into play, and they would likely be eligible. When we’re talking about guidelines or valuable things to remember, if you think that your child is having difficulties in school and that there may be some impairment, I suggest going to your healthcare provider first and getting a diagnosis.
That’s where I would start because if you go to the school and say, my child has this impairment if there’s no diagnosis, the school does have types of therapists and sometimes psychologists and things like that that can potentially diagnose, but it’s complicated. I will start there, especially if it’s something physical where you need your primary care provider, pediatrician, or specialist to diagnose.
Once you get that diagnosis from your healthcare provider, you will notify the school that you want 504 plan accommodations. Then the school will send this information to the 504 plan coordinator and team, including parents or guardians. It is also important to learn or know that parents are involved. You do have a say so in what goes into that plan.
The team will assemble, then they will look at the data. They will look at the diagnosis from your healthcare provider or therapist. Then they’re likely going to speak with the general education teacher.
If the child is in special education, they will likely already have an IEP. But if some other accommodations are needed that wouldn’t be covered under the IEP, that special education teacher or coordinator can also show those data and observations. Then the team comes together, looks at the data and observations, and says that the student’s impairment substantially limits their ability to learn within the classroom, transition between classes, participate in extracurricular activities, or eat lunch in the cafeteria. Once that happens, the child would qualify.
The team would meet again and then decide on the accommodations. Another helpful tip I always recommend is when creating accommodations or drafting them. It’s essential that whoever is doing it in the school—from the teacher to a substitute teacher, admin staff, cafeteria workers, and bus drivers—can look at it, read that accommodation, and know precisely how to implement it.
An example is if a substitute comes in and gives an exam. If accommodations state that the child receives extra time on the exam, how much spare time? Can the child stay there all day and work on that exam? We don’t know. A better way to write that is more helpful for everybody, including the student, is that the student either gets double or triple the time or would specify one hour, two hours, or something like that. So that if anybody picks it up who is qualified, we have a substitute teacher, admin staff, and anybody who can read that accommodation and know precisely how to implement it.
I suggest other valuable tips and guidelines whenever you’re creating accommodations. You want to remember that this child may have anxiety or just a realization that they may learn or process things differently. And that can be stressful for them. And no child wants to be singled out for any impairment in the classroom. It can be detrimental to them. Another helpful suggestion when drafting the accommodations is that there should be a way the student can tell the teacher or whomever staff at the school that the accommodation or intervention needs to come into play.
Let me give you an example. If a child has an impairment of anxiety, it substantially limits them within the classroom. They may be having panic attacks; they don’t want to give oral presentations and things like that. There’s a way to tell the teacher that they need that accommodation. Often, the student may indicate a code word to the teacher; they may raise their hand with a thumbs up or something like a number two or number one.
It clues the teacher that this child needs that accommodation, so they give that signal, thumbs up. The teacher sees that, and then they can clue in the student and say, okay, you may go. The code word sometimes means you must use the restroom or get a drink. And then, they can go to seclusion or somewhere away from the classroom where they can self-regulate.
Or there may be an individual designated within the school that they can go to who can help regulate their emotions and distrust so that they can calm down and then enter back into the classroom. The other helpful thing overlooked in 504 plans is everything outside the general education classroom.
The biggest ones I have seen, especially with students with disciplinary problems when overstimulated, are the cafeteria and lunchtime. If there are any sensory processing disorders, the cafeteria is extremely overstimulating. The smells that many people don’t think about, the noise of the sheer number of students talking about their day, teachers discussing things with other staff, and cafeteria workers talking. So, the noise level is very high. Lots of smells cramped into a large area.
And so many students are cramped, moving fast, or waiting in line for long periods. It can be sensory overload. If your child is having issues around the cafeteria or lunchtime, I recommend that some accommodations be in writing to accommodate them. What would that look like? They may be allowed to sit in a particular spot in the cafeteria if they feel comfortable. They may be entitled to eat in a different location than the actual cafeteria. They may have a peer or a buddy; like a buddy system, they can sit next to them.
The possibilities are endless for accommodations, but you want to make sure that it’s tailored to meet that student’s needs, and it can be anything within the confines of the school. So, again, extracurricular activities—that’s a big one. If they need accommodations or transitions between classes, do they need a buddy to go with? Do they need to be escorted by aides or staff members? Are they allowed prompt time before they leave? So, the teacher notifies the student, okay, in five minutes, we’re going to be transitioning to, and then explains.
And that leads me to the last helpful guideline or tip you want to remember. There are no check-the-boxes on a 504 plan. You can get very creative. It’s essential, though, to fully understand what’s causing the student’s impairments within the school so that you can detail that accommodation to meet their needs. And don’t be scared to speak up if you’re a parent. Get creative and ask questions. You have a say, and you are an equal team member.
And you know your child best. So, speak up for them, advocate for them, and think about it broadly within the whole aspect of the school, from when they leave the door to when they come back in the afternoon.
Jennifer Hanson is a dedicated and seasoned writer specializing in the field of special education. With a passion for advocating for the rights and needs of children with diverse learning abilities, Jennifer uses her pen to educate, inspire, and empower both educators and parents alike.