When Cady was finally diagnosed as having dyslexia earlier this year, I breathed a huge sigh of relief, and I thought, “Thank God it’s over.” Little did I know the work was just starting. It wasn’t long before I was hearing all kinds of new jargon like Section 504 Plan, IEP, ADA, IDEA, etc. All I could think was W-T-F?
I knew that if I wanted to be a fierce advocate for Cady that I needed to learn as much as I could as fast as possible. Now, I’m going to share what I know with you in case your child is diagnosed with a learning disability in the future.
The first thing you need to do when your child is diagnosed with a learning disability is become familiar with the National Center for Learning Disabilities and the Wright’s Law websites. Both of these sites are full of valuable information that is easy to understand. You should also review the policies for your district, and find a friend that has already walked the path you are on. They can be a wealth of information. I’m very thankful to Kristin for helping me when Cady was first diagnosed.
What is a 504 Plan?
Section 504 is the section of the Amercians with Disabilities Act (aka ADA) that ensures children with disabilities have equal access to an education. Section 504 applies to all students who may need accommodations and modifications to be a part of the classroom, whether their disability be related to learning, health, or mental abilities.
Does my child need a Section 504 Plan?
Two plans may be used for children with disabilities, an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or a Section 504 Plan. How do you know which one your child needs? To qualify for an IEP your child must have a disability as defined by IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), and as a result of the disability, the child needs a special education program in order to make progress in school. Still not sure. I understand. This is what NCLD says about it:
This legal requirement essentially says that some kids with LD or ADHD may not meet the state or district requirements of the second prong. While the student may have a disability, it may not be impacting their learning in ways that qualify them for special education services. These students however, because they have an LD or ADHD, may meet the requirement to have a 504 plan if their disability “substantially limits them in performing one or more major life activity.”
Dyslexia qualifies Cady for a Section 504 Plan, but not an IEP. Some dyslexic students may qualify for an IEP if they have other mitigating factors that affect their learning (for example, also having ADHD). I know it still isn’t 100% clear. This is why you need someone in your area that has been through this process to ask for advice.
What accommodations are needed in the Section 504 Plan?
This will vary depending on your child, their learning disability, how significant their disability is, and what is allowed in your school district. For Cady’s first 504 Plan meeting I was completely unprepared. I was not happy with the plan the school put together. We had to table the plan and return to it after a few weeks.
I went home, regrouped, and researched online what accommodations are common for dyslexia. I spoke with another mom whose daughter is dyslexic. I contacted our Regional Coordinator of Partners Resource Network for advice. And I listened to the educator’s at Cady’s school about what was appropriate for her. I then sent an email to Cady’s counselor addressing my concerns and the accommodations I wanted in Cady’s 504 Plan.
All of these steps were a lot of work. It was also emotional and stressful at times. I had no idea what I was doing, but I knew that I needed to be a fierce advocate for my daughter. I believe that the faculty and staff at our school have her best interest at heart, but I am her mother and no one cares more about her future than I do. Also, I have one student at Cady’s school. They have hundreds. When it comes to navigating the Section 504 plan process, you can never know enough; therefore, I recommend you research, research, research.
What are the parent’s rights under Section 504?
Unfortunately, not a lot. School districts are required to notify parents that a Plan has been developed, and you have the right to review the documents and request an impartial hearing if you are not satisfied with the Plan. Parents have a lot more rights with the IEP Plan, and the good news is, a lot of school districts use the same procedures for the Section 504 Plan process. I recommend that you attend all meetings and maintain a positive working relationship with the school. They need to know that you are an active participant in your child’s education and that you want to be included in the process.
Ensuring that your child receives an effective Section 504 Plan can be a complicated, stressful, and emotional process, but it is also one of the most important things to help children with learning disabilities. My advice is to:
- Be involved.
- Do your research.
- Leave the emotions at home.
- Stand your ground.
Has your child been diagnosed with a learning disability? Have you had to navigate the Section 504 Plan process? If so, is there anything I’ve missed? If you have additional questions, please leave them in the comments and I’ll do my best to find you an answer.