By Kate Pece, M. Ed.
In this series of 4 articles, you will learn how to navigate the public school system for accommodations under a 504 plan. This first article gives a broad overview of initiating the process so that you may get started right away.
Part 1: 504 Primer
If your school-aged child has a diagnosis of hypersomnia, you have probably seen the impact of the disorder on your child’s academic progress. Until now, you may have had mixed results in getting the support your child needs in public school. With the doctor’s diagnosis, however, you may now request legally binding, formal accommodations under Section 504 of The Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
In brief, a 504 plan provides your child in public school with specific accommodations to “level the playing field” when your child is symptomatic. (Private schools may also write 504 plans, but most will provide accommodations without the formal process outlined in federal law.) Pursuing a 504 plan requires that you submit certain documentation and attend a meeting that includes you, your child, the 504 coordinator at the school, your child’s teachers, and possibly other school personnel, such as the counselor or school nurse.
Begin the process by asking for the name and contact information of the 504 coordinator at the school. Contact this person to request a 504 meeting and a list of the documentation you will need to provide to the school. This may be as simple as a one-page form that the school provides for the doctor to state the diagnosis and explain how it may impact your child in school.
You will need to prepare for the meeting, as hypersomnia is an uncommon disorder that school personnel may not understand. Provide a very simple and succinct description of hypersomnia and the specific symptoms your child experiences. Also be ready to explain, or have your child prepared to explain, how these symptoms have an impact on your child’s ability to learn, concentrate, take notes, study, complete classwork/homework, take quizzes and tests, and so on.
Most importantly, prepare a list of accommodations that you would like to request to help your child have equal access to learning in the school setting. An upcoming article in this series will provide more details about specific accommodations to consider. One example is for your child to receive copies of the teachers’ class notes or presentations, as mental fogginess may make it difficult for your child to take notes in class.
The key to developing appropriate accommodations is to determine ways in which your child is unable to perform at the level of his or her peers without such accommodations. If hypersomnia has no apparent educational impact (e.g., lower grades on tests due to the inability to stay alert and take good notes in class), the law prohibits the development of accommodations under a 504 plan. Accommodations are created to level the playing field, but they cannot provide an advantage that is not available to other students. Accommodations also do not maximize potential, so a “B student” performing at the level of his or her peers cannot get accommodations for the sole purpose of earning an A.
During the course of the 504 meeting, the entire team of participants will work together to develop accommodations that will work. These are documented in a formal 504 plan that is signed by all team members. It goes into effect immediately, and school personnel must provide the accommodations under federal law. The 504 plan is reviewed annually. If any new concerns arise before then, an amendment meeting may be called at any time to discuss accommodations for new symptoms or additional diagnoses.
Keep a copy of the most recent 504 plan and check in with your child to ensure that it is being followed. If there are any problems with implementation, contact the teacher first. If not resolved, contact the 504 coordinator and follow up to be sure the plan is followed.