Last May, we had discussions with our school counselor that it was time to think about a 504 Plan for our teenager. At first, I was resistant- Section 504 is part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. It's an anti-discrimination, civil rights statute that requires the needs of students with disabilities to be met as adequately as the needs of the non-disabled. Essentially, to get accommodations in school, we'd have to declare our daughter disabled. That was hard for me to swallow at first.
My daughter has chronic migraines and Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS). At first glance, she looks like every other happy teenager out there- she's pretty, vibrant, a good dancer and an excellent student. Unfortunately, she's not. Both of her invisible illnesses cause her to miss at least two days of school a week and her needs in the classroom are a little different than those of a healthy child. In the past year, we've had to pull her completely out of school to get things under control and we're currently phasing her back in with a half day. We're testing the waters to see what will work for high school and we know we need to have a 504 Plan in place when we walk through those doors in the Fall.
Why consider a 504 Plan? If you're in a public school (it's federally funded) and your child has a physical impairment, chronic illness or injury that prevents them from performing at the level of their peers it's a necessity. It's a legally binding document that outlines all the accommodations and modifications your child needs to be able to learn successfully. What does that mean? Your child is set up for success.
We started to explore what that looked like for Rosie last Fall with a series of recommendations from our Neurologist. Our middle school was kind enough to work with us while we figured out what we needed. When we put Rosie back in school in January, we revisited the plan and after Spring Break will have our formal 504 meeting. What does our current plan look like?
Because we miss school often, Rosie's allowed to contact her teachers directly and ask for work without waiting the standard two days. She's allowed to carry a water bottle and leave the classroom to go to the nurse without calling attention to herself. She only has to prove mastery of concepts in class. Because she has POTS, we'll be adding accommodations for P.E. class. Right now, we have a four-hour school day with a late start.
At first glance, none of these accommodations seem like a big deal, but they are. Before Rosie would have to raise her hand and ask to see the nurse if she had a migraine. It's uncomfortable to have 24 kids turn around and stare at you as you exit the room. If she missed a Monday and then a Friday, she was unable to ask for her work because it wasn't two days in a row. This prevented her from getting caught up over the weekend when she felt better. And, she'd have hundreds of math problems to make up that were similar in nature, when it might only take 20 to prove that she understood the concept. Finally, if she woke up with a migraine, it was impossible for us to get her to school for her core classes. A late start allows us to treat her and still get her to school.
A comprehensive 504 Plan allows our teenager to stay in public school with her friends- the place she wants to be. While our middle school has helped Rosie without the formal plan in place, we know how important it is to have a legally binding document before high school. Spelled out in black and white, there's no special treatment for our chronically ill child, just what's mandatory to give her the same educational experiences as her peers.
If you think your child might need a 504 plan, there are lots of resources out there. Here are a few: