Special Education/504


QUESTION: I just read an article on your web site about a 7th grader with anxiety and depression disorder. We had a 504 meeting yesterday and the only concessions they gave our daughter was able to go to the clinic when needed and she gets preferred seating. She has been in counselling for 2 years and is on medications for it. She also has been diagnosed with ADHD, we had a letter from her doctor recommending certain accommodations and they basically blew it off. Our daughter becomes overwhelmed with her work and shuts down, she does great on test itís the homework that shuts her down. We believe by the end of the day she is just worn out trying to keep everything together, when she comes home she crashes. Her stress has been related to school any other time she is usually pretty good and does not have any major issues during the summer months.

ABCs for Life Success
ABCs for Life Success  
ANSWER: Dear Bill,

Thank you so much for writing to me after you saw a posting about a middle school child with anxiety and depression.  It seems that at your child's 504 plan meeting, the only accommodations the team would agree to is to allow her to see the nurse and preferential seating.  

It seems like you feel the 504 Plan should also accommodate her homework workload and possibly contain some other accommodations.  You presented a letter from the doctor and asked for additional accommodations, but the team refused.  If this is correct, I would advise the following:

1--Write a follow up letter to the team, documenting what happened at the meeting.  State that you provided the recommendations from the doctor, and that you asked for the (specify) accommodations in the letter, but the team disagreed.  This will help you by formalizing your disagreement.

2--I am not sure how old your daughter is, but it is well researched that homework does not improve student achievement, when it is done under frustrating or stressful conditions.  I would like to suggest that you ask the school counselor and teachers how much time other general education students (without disabilities) spend on homework, and then limit your daughter's time on homework to that.  I would avoid sitting with your daughter or providing too much support at homework time, so that the teachers can get an accurate picture of what she is learning and what she is not learning.  

3--If you already haven't, be sure your daughter is involved in activities that tap into her strengths, into her interest areas, and that boost her leadership and self confidence skills.  When there is too much emphasis on the child's weak areas, the child over time can become even more overwhelmed and hopeless.  In the future, when she goes to college or has a career, she will need to focus on what she does well and build her academic resume by being involved in community and extracurricular areas, instead of crashing after school, being overwhelmed, and then needing more (therapy, medication, etc.) interventions to address her weak areas.  

4--Explore technology and other ways for her to demonstrate her understanding of the curriculum.  Whether it's slide shows, or oral presentations, youtube videos about a subject, or other creative ways to show her knowledge, technology can really make a difference.  For example, even though she can read and write, perhaps dictation for writing where she speaks and the computer types, or having text read aloud, turn to technology to assist her and make things easier.  The use of technology is a life skill now, and can even lead to careers.  

5--Think about whether a more robust evaluation is needed at this time.  If so, the school district can do it, or you can obtain a private evaluation, that shows what she needs.  This will boost the doctor's recommendations, and any time you provide information, the team has to consider it.  Perhaps the team did not take seriously a doctor letter because the team perhaps did not think the doctor understood enough of her school demands.  An evaluation with specific recommendations can also pave the way and make a good foundation for your requests, or help you if you needed to go to a mediation or other dispute.  

I hope these five ideas have assisted you in thinking about how to handle the accommodations on the 504 Plan and assist your daughter's success.  Remember she is entitled to a FAPE, free appropriate public education, and the 504 Plan should contain anything she needs to receive a FAPE, make progress, and be set up for a successful and fulfilling life after school.  

Please accept my apology for the delay in my response!  I thank you again for writing to me and for using this valuable service.  I wish you all the best as you advocate for your exceptional child's education!  


---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Just to let you know we appreciate your time and answer. Our daughter is in 9th grade. We did send a letter to the district office and they have rescheduled a new 504 meeting. We also contacted the OCR to ask their opinion on this matter. This a copy of the letter we sent.

We want to thank you for your time and the opportunity to meet with you and your staff. With that being said, we do not feel comfortable with the 504 accommodations that were proposed. Although the two accommodations discussed are appropriate, they do not address our daughterís main issue of anxiety and especially depression. The accommodations are too generic in nature and do not address the issue of her overall academic needs. We felt that we were not allowed to finish speaking to her disabilities completely and that we were interrupted several times in the meeting. We understand that teachers have a scheduled time to leave, which we were unaware of, but to walk out while we were still talking, we found inappropriate. We also believe that we did not have the right people in the room to address or represent Juliaís condition and how disabling it can be. You handed out information from the doctor addressing some accommodations and it was apparent that most individuals just flipped through the papers and did not read what was in the package. We would have expected such people as the school psychologist and gifted resource teacher to be present.  The primary discussion was two accommodations that are necessary and will help Julia feel more comfortable, however they are obviously not working to make her successful academically.

We have reached out to several different agencies to seek help in this process and to help our daughter. We are not trying to be difficult, but we are advocates for our daughter and we will do what we believe is right for her.  If you would like to discuss further, please contact Bill at .

We appreciate your time greatly,

Bill and Elena Palermo

Dear Bill,

Thank you for providing me with the letter you sent.  It seems that the tone and process did not allow you to be equal partners with the team.  The point you raise about having the right people at the meeting is very important.  

I would like to turn now to what qualifies a person for the 504 Plan.  There first must be a documented condition, which in your daughter's case, there is.  

Then that condition must be said to affect a major life activity, such as learning, concentrating, attending, etc.  In your daughter's case, what did the team document as the adverse effects of her conditions?  

If the team did not recognize that learning or concentrating is affected, it will become less likely that the team will add accommodations.

I would be happy to conduct an audit of your daughter's case by review of records and doing some interviews.  This will result in a report that you can use, or you could bring me into meetings as well (usually by phone, I just don't know where you are located). You could give that report to the team, and be more in the lead when interacting with the team. If you provide a specific listing of what the 504 Plan should look like, the team will use that as the basis for its discussion, instead of 'steamrolling' and 'popcorning' (my term for when the team members try to pop up out of the meeting).

Your correspondence is clear and I think you did a nice job, not knowing the specifics.  Maybe it could contain a list of accommodations that you requested via doctor letter.  It's so unfortunate that the team must by law 'consider' your information, and some team members take that to mean 'glance at'.  I would only add that you need the team to do what is 'appropriate' to provide her with a FAPE, instead of using the word 'right'.  Parents mean this when they say they want what's right or best, but if parents use 'legal' terms, then the team takes it more seriously.  

If you need anything, don't hesitate!  abc4success@msn.com

I again wish you the best as you advocate for your (twice exceptional!) child!

Special Education

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Michelle R. Davis, M. Ed.


I can answer questions about disability definitions and criteria for services, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act 2004, No Child Left Behind, 504 plans, how to craft an IEP that drives the appropriate services, school placement, dispute options, and least restrictive environment. I worked in the public school system as a special educator and am now in private consulting practice where we assist parents as they navigate the special education process. I have expertise in all educational disabilities except blind/visual impairments and deaf/hard of hearing. This includes ADHD and other health impairments, medical conditions, dyslexia and learning disabilities, Autism, emotional disabilities, language processing problems, and interfering behaviors.


10 years as special educator and administrator in public school system; Director of ABCs for Life Success since 1998; Expert services such as analysis and testimony; Author: Special Needs Advocacy Resource Book: What you can do now to advocate for your exceptional child's education; Special Needs Advocacy Training Institute; internet radio show Teach Your Children Well: Hot Topics in Education; author School Success for Kids with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders released March 2010 (Prufrock Press).

Masters in Special Education with Emphasis on Inclusive Education (Johns Hopkins University); B.S.in Special Education (James Madison University); Conduct training for Universities, public and private schools, parent groups. Adjunct professor current George Washington University and prior George Mason University.

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