parents at school conference
Within the school system, certain students become eligible for section 504 and therefore receive services and protection by law. 504 refers to the section of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 which applies to people with disabilities. In short, it is a civil rights act which prohibits discrimination against anyone with a physical or mental disability who attends either a public or private school that is funded with public dollars.
In order for a student to become eligible for 504 services he or she must first be determined as a result of an evaluation to have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. For this evaluation data is gathered from a variety of sources such as the classroom teacher, the administrator, student standardized tests, parent input, or a student’s individual progress monitoring plan (PMP). Within Collier County’s public school district, the school’s Problem Solving/Response to Intervention Team (PS/RTI TEAM) decides if Section 504 applies for a student.
Section 504 defines major life activities as “functions such as caring for one’s self, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning and working.” The major life activity most often identified in the educational setting is that of learning.
A physical or mental impairment is described as “any physiological disorder or condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or anatomical loss affecting one or more of the following bodily systems: neurological; musculoskeletal; special sense organs; respiratory, including speech organs; cardiovascular; reproductive; digestive; genito-urinary; hemic and lymphatic; skin; and endocrine; Any mental or psychological disorder, such as mental retardation, organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness, and specific learning disabilities.”
When a student becomes 504, they will receive a 504 plan which is a document designed to outline any accommodations or modifications the student will receive at school and possibly during state and county wide tests such as the Collier Writes and FCAT. For some children, providing the appropriate modifications and accommodations they need is the only way they will be successful in their school experiences. The accommodations or modifications of a student’s 504 plan are usually carried out by the student’s classroom teacher, who is also part of the PS/RTI team.
A 504 accommodation plan is not an individualized education plan (IEP). An Individualized Education Program (IEP) describes the educational program that has been specifically designed to meet the unique needs of a child who receives specialized instruction and related support services, such as speech and language services and occupational therapy. For students with disabilities who require specialized instruction, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) controls the procedural requirements and an IEP is developed for these children. The IDEA process is typically more involved than that of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.
An accommodation is any technique that alters the academic setting or environment. A modification is any technique that alters the work required by the student in some way. These accommodations or modifications may include untimed state and county wide testing, reduced homework assignments, note taking assistance, organizational strategies, and supplemental materials. The PS/RTI TEAM typically decides what accommodations are necessary because this team would be knowledgeable about the student as well as the evaluation procedure and accommodation options that would best suit the needs of the student.
For each school, the principal assigns a member of the faculty to serve as the school’s Section 504 liaison or contact. The Section 504 liaison implements the district’s procedures on Section 504 and reviews referrals made to the PS/RTI Team. The 504 liaison provides input on issues related to Section 504 and maintains the accommodation plans for 504 students. In addition, the liaison ensures consistent accommodations to the student as he/she changes grades and teachers.
At the beginning of each school year and after any significant change of placement, teachers are notified by the school’s 504 liaison so they can review their student’s accommodation plan. The suggested time for review of the 504 accommodation plan should take place annually. Review is mandatory when a 504 student has a significant change of placement such as a transfer to a different school, or when they move on to middle or high school.
Darlene Pellechia is a CCPS teacher, editorial contributor, and mom of three.