The Case of the Disappearing 504 Plan
A few days ago I decided that this post would be about Nathan’s 504 plan. Now that I finally have the time to write the post, I looked for our copy of the 504 plan. Not to be found!
Kind of ironic, because I have a packed-to-the-max file box with (almost) every scrap of paper relating to Nathan’s challenges over the years. But it is also kind of fitting, because the 504 plan also went missing when it was needed the most.
I’ve referred to 504 plans in two previous posts: Where to start, part 2: at school and The AVID program. Each of those posts has a link regarding 504 plans. You can look at those links, and here’s another one for your viewing pleasure: http://specialchildren.about.com/od/504s/a/504accom.htm.
Remember that 504 plans contain modifications and accommodations for people with physical and/or mental impairments that limit their ability to perform at the same level as their peers. The way I understand it, the elements in a 504 plan don’t change the way the student is taught, but they make it possible for the student to better absorb what is being taught. If the student doesn’t qualify for special education but needs help functioning in the classroom, the 504 plan is the way to go. The hyperlink at the end of the previous paragraph gives examples of what might be included in 504 plans relating to various impairments.
As I mentioned in the post about the AVID program, Nathan’s 504 plan came into being at the end of his awful freshman year. I can’t remember who suggested a 504 plan – the guidance counselor is a good guess, although this counselor was generally not on top of things.
From the documentation I can find in my file box, it looks like some evaluations were started in February of Nathan’s freshman year. He apparently had a hearing and a vision test at the school, and passed both. I’m pretty sure he took one of those cognitive assessment tests (Woodcock-Johnson? He definitely took the W-J the following year). And I see we filled out a couple of Parent Rating Scales – the BASC and the Conners’, for those of you keeping score. (These are multiple-choice questionnaires about a child’s behavior and problems.) The school psychologist coordinated all of this.
This school psychologist was a nice enough guy, but was not the sharpest knife in the drawer. He totally missed one of the appointments he had set up with us (and, you know, we had to take time off from work and drive 20 minutes to the high school for this, and wait, and then drive back, and reschedule.) Another time, we showed up for an appointment and the school staff thought he would be back any time, “probably walking around the school grounds to clear his head.” We waited 15 minutes, and were just about to pack it up when we heard a flush from the staff bathroom down the hall. The door swings open, and there he is with a big smile. His expression when he saw us quickly transitioned from recognition to remembrance to embarrassment. It was priceless!
But I digress (it was a good story though, wasn’t it?)
The 504 plan meeting eventually took place in May with us, the psychologist, an assistant principal, the guidance counselor, a couple of teachers, and Nathan (who probably had his eyes closed the whole time). During the meeting, someone wrote down three accommodations to be implemented. One was to allow Nathan the option of giving oral reports after class, and another allowed him more time to complete classwork. The third one may have been something about group assignments, because those were a huge challenge for Nathan.
Right, so, this plan would be filed with the school district, and would be distributed to all of Nathan’s current and future teachers. And, maybe the accommodations would help.
Nathan’s sophomore year, in the non-college-bound classes, was better than his AVID year, but not by much. His English teacher really cared, and actually left a couple of messages on our home answering machine when Nathan had done something well in his class. Those messages gave us a lift, and how! But mostly it was a struggle to see if we could get and keep Nathan’s grades above 60%.
A few months passed, and I had a question about the 504 plan – I think one of the teachers told me they had never seen it. I called the district. Guess what – they had never seen the 504 plan either! Guess who never followed through to file the plan at the district? Did you guess the school psychologist? You are right!!
This prompted another meeting at the school, with the principal in attendance. When she heard what had happened, she turned to us and said, “If I were you, I’d be livid.”
We had grounds to be livid, and maybe even for a lawsuit, but that’s not how we are. We were too trusting that the system would work – but it didn’t. Honestly I don’t know that the 504 plan accommodations would have made much of a difference. With Nathan so determined to do poorly, not much could have stopped him.
And so, we took the next step, into the world of special education and IEPs.