Secrets from a 504 Insider: A Parent’s Guide to Academic Accommodations
If your child has a disability that affects his or her ability to perform academically, you may already be thinking about approaching the school about setting up a 504 Plan. As a former Professional School Counselor, I have created dozens of 504 Plans for children with a wide range of needs. I saw which plans worked and why, and which parents were the most effective in advocating for their child’s needs. Read on to learn some insider secrets for giving your child his or her best chance for success.
- The squeaky wheel gets the grease. Unfortunately, teachers and school counselors are increasingly overburdened by huge class sizes and caseloads. And even the most skilled and caring school professionals only have so many hours in the day! With no end in sight to the troubling trend of rising class sizes, the responsibility will continue to fall on parents to advocate on behalf of our children if we believe that their needs are going unaddressed. Don’t wait for parent-teacher conferences if you have a concern. Reach out by sending an email to your child’s teacher or school counselor. Use wording like, “I’m concerned about Sasha’s hyperactivity. I’ve seen an increase at home and I was wondering if you noticed it, too. Do you think it’s impacting her in the classroom?” See where the conversation goes from there, and ask for a 504 Meeting as a next step.
- You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar. Too many times, I witnessed parents approach the 504 Meeting with an accusatory, you’re-not-helping-my-child-enough attitude. When your child’s success in on the line, it’s understandable for emotions to run high. However, I would remind parents that you and your school professionals are on the same team! Everyone’s goal is the same—to help children reach their full potential. If you believe your child’s needs are not being met, I can almost guarantee you that it is due to the teacher being overburdened, not unaware or unconcerned. To get the conversation moving forward, ask questions about the things that are concerning you. For example, “Have you noticed any changes in Erica’s academics or behavior since her concussion?” Or, “Do you think Sam could benefit from more positive attention in the classroom?”
- Always be prepared. Out of the dozens of 504 Meetings I ran each year as a Professional School Counselor, I can remember maybe one or two where the parents came prepared with a pad and pen. This shocked me! Always approach your child’s 504 Meeting as you would a (friendly) business meeting. Come prepared with a pad and pen and take notes. For that matter, if your child has a medical or psychological evaluation or diagnosis, bring a copy of the report. Here’s another tip: Do a little Googling and come up with a list of questions about the 504 process, as well as a few accommodations that you would like the team to consider. By the way, did you know that while most schools don’t allow you to request a specific teacher for your child, it is possible for the 504 Plan to include a recommendation that your child be matched with a teacher who has certain strengths? Here’s another tip: If you are concerned about your ability to advocate for your child in the meeting, you have the right to bring someone along with you, like a knowledgeable friend or family member. Yep! It only takes few quick internet searches and a little preparation, but the result can be a smoother and more productive meeting, an effective 504 Plan, and ultimately, an improvement in your child’s ability to conquer whatever obstacles he or she is facing. Good luck!
Kate Goodman, LPC, is a Licensed Professional Counselor and a Certified Clinical Trauma Specialist working with primarily children and adolescents. Kate is a Connecticut native, having obtained her B.A. from Trinity College and her M.A. from the University of Connecticut. One of Kate’s specialties is working with children who have disruptive behaviors, anxiety, and other factors affecting their academic success. She has extensive knowledge of stress-management and behavior modification techniques, as well as an understanding of how to help families achieve greater harmony at home. Kate believes strongly in facilitating a child’s positive behavioral changes through aligning parents, families, and school professionals towards a common goal of helping the child achieve success. Her other special interests include ADHD, depression, divorce, family conflict, panic disorder, and trauma. Kate also loves infusing her sessions with technology to help engage young minds.