504 Plans and the start of school
Diabetes forecast has a nice article about 504 plans in their August 2013 issue. Here is the link
August 1 seems like a good time to discuss 504 plans since many of our younger members will be heading back to school. I was a school administrator for 13 years and was paid to protect the interest of schools during the formulation and administration of these plans. I say that because you may find my writing is a bit biased. If so please excuse my unintended point of view. Hopefully however hearing form a school administrator will help the process at your school.
What is a 504 plan? A 504 plan is a written agreement between a school and a parent regarding the treatment of a child with a disability. Diabetic children qualify for and should have a 504 plan in place with the public school they attend. Some private schools are also required to have 504 plans. A 504 pan is called for in the Americans with Disabilities Act and applies to all schools who receive federal assistance. Federal assistance may include, textbook assistance, the school lunch program, and assistance for students who are being educated with certain more severe disabilities.
Is a 504 Plan different from an IEP? Yes it is. Some diabetic students with severe mental or physical disabilities will have an IEP. If a student has an IEP they do not need a separate 504 plan as well.
What is in a 504 Plan? Think if it as a medical treatment plan for your child while at school. A properly drafted one will include when and who can test your child, when and how insulin will be delivered, when and how other medicines will be delivered, when and who will keep glucagon or glucose tabs in the case of lows. It is important to specify both in school and extra-curricular activities.
The ADA provides sample ADA plans which may be used while your 504 plan is being drafted. Typically a school will have their own format, and you should follow that format. Following the school format will less friction between the school and the parent.
Who writes 504 Plans? Typically a 504 plan is written by the teacher with input from the parents, school administrator, district representative, school counselor, school nurse, and representatives of the bus system, if one is used or extracurricular teachers if there is one. Parents are often concerned with the number of school personnel who attend such meetings. These people are required by federal law.
Parents may bring advocates to these meetings. I strongly suggest you not do that unless the process breaks down. When a parent shows up with an advocate it immediately signals a problem. You typically want to start these discussions in an atmosphere of cooperation, not an adversary position.
Disagreements happen. The actually happen with regularity, remember as a parent you are asking for special treatment for your child. Yes it is legally required, but every one of these is something the school officials have to honor. Think of 20 or 30 of these in a school and I hope you understand why school officials are sometimes protective of the norm.
This does not mean that you should hold back on your requests. Instead, you should lay everything out and be prepared to compromise to protect your child. This discussion will lay out your child’s treatment at school. If you do not ask for anything, it will not be on the table and that can lead to issues later. Be specific in the discussion and be sure your doctor specifies a complete treatment plan. If the doctor says your child needs to be tested six times per day it is likely that will be added to the plan. If you say it without a medical statement backing up your claim, chances are good it will not be added to the plan.
Not all plan discussions will be controversial. In fact about 90% run without a hitch. If you are in the 10% that are difficult, you can usually settle the matter by looking first for areas you agree on. These discussions are easier, if you find common areas of agreement first. If you do find you just cannot agree on all issues, sign off on the parts you do agree on. Not singing off on the areas of agreement means your child has no protection, chances are the parts you disagree on will be small so do not harm your child for those areas you just naturally agree with. Once you agree on parts of the plan you can continue discussing the parts of disagreement.
What are the major areas of disagreement? Disagreements usually occur over who will administer insulin and glucose. Many parents want only a nurse to do this but schools often have a tough time guaranteeing a nurse 100% of the time. I advise parents not to demand a nurse, instead remember your child has these services administrated everyday with trained volunteers. This can also work the other way. There is a movement in some states to require a nurse for administration of all medicine and glucose. What you should not do is compromise student participation because of the lack of a nurse. If a school or state has a rule that nurses be present, then that is their issue not yours. If your child wishes to play school sponsored soccer it is up to the school to provide personnel as specified in the 504 plan.
The ADA is a federal law and that law guarantees student participation in sports, school activities, and things like field trips. A state law that requires nurses be present is the school’s issue. Now if nurses are not required, I caution parents to keep their eye on the prize, which is finding ways for your student to participate. For a parent to require a nurse be present often times means that the 504 plan will not be signed and in effect the student will be on their own when it comes to participation.
What should be the goal of the parents? Parents should look for ways to help their children be more independent when that independence is appropriate. If your child tests at home and corrects using her pump you should argue for that independence at school. You should protect children’s ability to test, use the restroom and administer insulin with a pump or pen when they are able. To that end parents should, when the child is ready, argue for this freedom. When they are younger it is important to look for ways that a child can be more independent so they will be ready. A high school child will not want a nurse trailing after them every moment of every day.
My 504 plan is working, do I need to meet again? Typically these plans must be looked at annually. If your plan is operating well a simple signature is all that is required.
My 504 plan is not working, what should I do? Parents like school officials have the ability reconvene a 504 conference any time. If it is not working contact the principal and let them know you want to reconvene the conference. Do not be to concerned if the principal wants to convene a limited conference limited only to your concerns. Typically if you are having a bus issue, bringing in the school counselor may not be necessary. Again these issues normally involve extra-curricular events, gym, or field trips.
How does college work? Colleges do not operate under the same rules as K-12. Yes they must offer access to programs, but students are generally regarded as having the where with all to manage their own issues. It is important that students be afforded maximum accountability and privacy at the college level so do not expect that parents will be involved in any discussions about accommodations.
What about students who are 18 and over? A student who is 18 has every right to handle this matter without their parents. Even in K-12 if a student is 18 or over and requires a 504 plan the student may elect to not involve parents at all. Typically this happens if the parent child relationship has broken down in some manner. It can also happen if a student desires to exercise their independence. I suggest you allow the student to carry forward, if they are determined to do so. Remember you do not have a legal right to attend if an 18 year old says no.
Should I be worried about a 504 conference? No, 90% of the time this is easy. Do not be afraid, school officials are human, I know when you were in school the principal had the authority. But be an adult and interact with school administrators on an adult level. Adults can disagree and not scream at each other. Be calm.
What if everything falls apart and you cannot come to an agreement? The ADA in most states employs a legal team to help iron out these issues. I have never had one intervene in a discussion I had knowledge of. Still if it is necessary call the ADA and ask for help.
I hope things work out as your kids go back to school. It is a good idea if your child is diabetic to visit with your doctor before school starts. If your doctor changes your child’s medication or testing be sure that gets into the 504 record.