A 504 Plan is a document designed to provide accommodations and modifications that allow a child with disabilities access to public education. 504s are a part of U.S. civil-rights law, and if your child's school receives any federal dollars, it's obligated to provide a plan and abide by it. Often, though, enforcement is lax, and your child may not receive the services specified on a consistent and conscientious basis. When that happens, here's how to report the problem.
Time Required: Depends on how stubborn the school is
- Talk to the classroom teacher. The teacher is most likely to be the designated delivery person for the accommodations and modifications listed, and if that individual is not onboard, the likelihood of the plan being followed is slight. Have a meeting and share your concerns, and be very specific about why your child requires this assistance. There can be lots of reasons for noncompliance, including misunderstanding of the goals, lack of support or training, competing obligations, or resistance to what is seen as unfair advantages. If you can't work things out directly with the teacher, move to the next step.
- Talk to the principal. This will be especially important if the teacher is willing but has not received appropriate assistance from the administration to put the modifications and accommodations into effect. It's possible that the principal does not realize that the 504 involves more than can be handled effectively by the classroom teacher, and you're going to serve as a reminder. Make specific requests for what is needed, based on your knowledge of your child and your conversation with the teacher. Agree on a timetable for the needed supports to be put in place, and write a letter later to confirm that.
- Talk to the 504 Coordinator. If the teacher and principal are not able or willing to implement your child's 504 plan, find out who is responsible for coordinating those plans for your school district and touch base with that individual. The coordinator should have knowledge of your child's plan, and needs to be aware that it is not being put in place. If certain aspects of the plan cannot be realistically implemented, it may need to be rewritten; and if it is workable, then some district muscle may be required to enforce it. Again, agree on a timetable for that, and confirm it with a letter.
- Talk to your state parent advocacy center. Although the 504 Plan falls under federal law and not state law, advocates in your local area may have a better idea of how schools have succeeded or failed with 504s in the past, and how you might best force enforcement. The Technical Assistance Alliance for Parent Centers offers a directory you can use to find contact information and websites for centers in your state. You should be able to call your nearest office and discuss your problem with a parent or advisor who has experience with getting school districts to do their jobs.
- Contact the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights. This is where the buck stops in enforcing 504 Plans -- not with your state department of education, but with the U.S. government. If all else fails, and you're getting no effort at cooperation from the teacher, the principal, or the school district, report them to the feds. The Department of Education's site on protecting students with disabilities includes a contact page for finding the civil-rights office in your area, or making a complaint online.
- Remember that the goal is not so much to enforce the letter of the 504 Plan as it is to get your child the assistance and adjustments needed. If school personnel have alternative suggestions, be open to them -- or make some yourself.
- If a teacher objects to things like more time on tests or lessened workload because they give an unfair advantage, ask if there's some extra credit work your child could do in an area of strength to compensate for that. This may help your child feel she's fully pulling her weight, too.
- Remain as calm, organized and collaborative with school personnel as you would like them to be with you. You can scream and hit things when you get home.
What You Need:
- A copy of your child's 504 Plan
- A detailed understanding of why the plan's provisions are necessary
- Specific examples of how those needs are not being met
- Specific recommendations for how the school can do better