CASOriginally appeared in the CAS Weekly Newsletter. Written by Attorney Linda L. Yoder.

Dear Legal Mailbag:

Spring is in the air and I am spending the majority of my days at the various PPT and 504 meetings that have come on like a seasonal allergy. But to make matters worse, this is the season when parents learn if they won the lottery, the magnet school lottery that is, and I am facing a deluge of requests for 504 meetings at magnet schools throughout the State to take place now, over the summer and into the start of the new year.

While I adore traveling around our beautiful state, I do not have enough time to attend so many meetings out of district. I have contacted the 504 coordinators for the magnet schools and we have agreed to divide and conquer. They will handle the 504 meetings at their schools so that they do need to adjust to my schedule and the magnet schools in our town will do the same for students from their towns. As a safeguard, since the accommodation costs are billed back to the sending town, we have agreed that none of us will recommend services that exceed $1500 except in unusual circumstances and without giving the sending town a heads up. As a further safeguard, we agreed that since the sending town is responsible for scheduling and supervising such meetings, we could claim that the plan is invalid if the sending district did not participate and demand a do-over if we are unhappy with any of the recommendations.

I need to be in district to be available for medical emergencies and not an hour away discussing extended time on tests. Do you agree with our plan for managed care?

Thank you,
Nurses Should Call the Shots

Dear Allergies Anonymous:

Ouch, I feel that your prescription will not result in a healthy outcome. Unlike the IDEA, which has very detailed regulations, the 504 regulations do not address these particular issues. The State Department of Education (SDE), however, has determined that the magnet school is responsible for physical accommodations to its building to ensure program accessibility, but that the sending school district is responsible for convening the 504 meetings and preparing a child’s Section 504 plan. The SDE also takes the position that the magnet school will be responsible for implementing the services in the Section 504 plan, but the sending district is responsible for the costs associated with the delivery of such services. While this interpretation of the Section 504 cost allocation may be open to debate, we cannot advise your district to be “patient zero” in testing the State’s cost sharing guidance without first consulting about the particular facts of your case with your Board Attorney.

Using the current guidance, it is clear that the SDE expects the sending district to schedule 504 meetings as needed and to have someone from the sending district actively participate in the meeting. Although the statute and regulations do not explicitly prohibit the 504 coordinator for the sending district from delegating these tasks to the magnet school, I do not recommend this approach as the panacea for your problem. For starters, any agreement between the magnet school and the sending district that 504 recommendations should be limited by cost is likely to cause the Office for Civil Rights to have a seizure. Similarly, I do not think you would be successful in invalidating a 504 plan created at a meeting where you intentionally waived the district’s right of participation.

This bad news notwithstanding, you do however have some other remedies available to you. Although the sending district needs to facilitate the 504 meeting, you do not need to have someone physically present. Participate in these out of district meetings by phone unless an on-site visit is necessary for you to make an informed judgment about the 504 proposals. Schedule multiple meetings for the same day and for a short time- there is little reason that a 504 meeting, particularly the review of a current plan that is working, should exceed 30 minutes. Also, you could delegate to other certified staff members who are not nurses unless medical issues are at the core of the planning process. I hope that this prescription is effective at easing some of your 504 pain.