Sunday, January 30, 2011

504 Plans

Later this year, my baby boy will start Kindergarten! His first day still feels like a long way off, but the registration materials sitting in my mail box remind me that it may be here sooner than I realize. Even though Maxwell does not have food allergies like his sister, I know there are many other Kindergarteners out there that do. If you are a parent to one of them, you might want to consider asking for a 504 Plan.

Although my daughter is in the midst of her third year at our public elementary school, I am just now beginning to uncover the mysteries of the 504 Plan and how it can help keep her safe. What is a 504 Plan? This legal document refers to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act which specifies that no one with a disability can be excluded from participating in federally funded programs or activities, including elementary, secondary or postsecondary schooling.

In many school districts, food allergies are not typically considered as a disability covered by 504 Plans, but the truth is, they are without a doubt eligible if the severity of food allergies are life threatening. One other important thing to note: Some districts have even been heard to say, “We don’t do that in this district.” But in fact, compliance to Section 504, which is a federal statute, is not optional.

Why go to the trouble of creating a 504 Plan when you could just sit down with your child's teacher and principal before the school year starts and come to an informal agreement? Well, the major difference between a 504 Plan and this sort of casual discussion with teachers and administrators at the beginning of each school year is that a 504 Plan is a legal document. If the plan is not enforced, parents have legal recourse to the United States Office of Civil Rights or to the local courts, depending on the jurisdiction.

If your school is reluctant to make changes that you feel are necessary for your child's safety, going through the outside evaluation process and getting a 504 Plan may be the best way to protect your child in the classroom. Even if your relationship with your school has been cordial, having a formal, legally enforceable plan may help everyone involved.