Special Ed Connection, June 3, 2010

How teachers respond to parent and student requests to discontinue an accommodation can mean the difference between legal compliance and legal trouble for your district. See, for example, Morgan County (WV) Schools, 54 IDELR 104 (OCR 2009).

In this case, the district violated Section 504 when two teachers unilaterally decided to discontinue a particular accommodation upon student and parent request.

The Section 504 team should come together to discuss a student’s changing needs and formalize in the student’s plan any decisions to update accommodations, said Camilla Sims-Stambaugh, Section 504 coordinator for Duval County (Fla.) Public Schools. “This process allows the plan to better reflect the student’s current needs and inform those at the school who are responsible for the accommodations,” she said.

In addition to relying on the team process for decision-making, here are some other tips to help ensure proper implementation of accommodations in your district:

Investigate. Dig deeper to determine why a student doesn’t want a particular accommodation, said Linda Yoder, a school attorney with Shipman & Goodwin LLP in Hartford, Conn. In some cases, a teacher might implement an accommodation in a way that is embarrassing for the student. When that happens, the child’s 504 team should brainstorm ways to provide the accommodation in a less-noticeable way, she said.

Get student input. When appropriate, include the student in creating his Section 504 plan, Sims-Stambaugh recommended. Remember, the plan is a three-prong agreement between teachers, parents and the student. “In
[the Morgan County] case, student input would have prevented some of the missteps,” she said.

Institute progress monitoring if a parent asks the school to discontinue a service, Yoder said. First, document in writing that the parent has requested the school stop providing a particular service, she advised. Then, monitor the student’s progress without the accommodation for a certain period of time — four weeks, for example.
If the student’s grades fall or his behavior changes, reconvene a meeting, she said.

Review the plan. Go through students’ 504 plans annually to keep abreast of their changing needs, Yoder said.
Check the child’s disability status and current student data. If the child has a medical issue, such as allergies or asthma, request an update on how the condition currently affects the child. Determine if the same accommodations will be needed next year, she said.

Distribute the plan to all need-to-know staff. Schools sometimes are so concerned about confidentiality that they don’t share 504 plans with need-to-know staff members, such as substitutes or bus drivers, Yoder said. In some cases, it is essential that these personnel have copies of student’s 504 plans, especially for students with medical conditions.

Focus on clarity when writing accommodations, Yoder said. “Sometimes people write very broad statements
[into 504 plans] that are difficult to monitor,” she said. Anyone should be able to pick up the 504 plan and understand exactly what she is supposed to do. Instead of: “Student will receive extra time to make up work,” write: “Student will have one week to make up work, and if additional time is needed, a 504 meeting will be called.”

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