Some students with dyslexia are eligible for accommodations in school under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. This is a civil rights law prohibiting discrimination based on a disability in any agency or institution which receives federal funds, including public schools. According to the U.S. Office for Civil Rights, students are eligible for accommodations and services, as needed, under Section 504 if they (1) have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; or (2) have a record of such an impairment; or (3) be regarded as having such an impairment. A major life activity is one that an average person can complete with little or no difficulty. Learning, reading, and writing are considered major life activities.
Developing a Section 504 Plan
If parents believe their child needs a 504 plan, they must make a written request to ask the school to evaluate a child for eligibility for accommodations under Section 504. But teachers, administrators and other school personnel can also request an evaluation. Teachers might request an evaluation if they see a student having chronic problems in school and they believe these problems are caused by a disability. Once this request is received, the Child Study Team, which includes the teacher, the parents and other school personnel, meets to decide if the child is eligible for accommodations.
During the evaluation, the team reviews recent report cards and grades, standardized test scores, discipline reports and talks with parents and teachers about school performance. If a child has been privately evaluated for dyslexia, this report will probably be included. If the student has other conditions, such as ADHD, a doctor's report may have been submitted. The educational team reviews all of this information to decide if a student is eligible for accommodations under Section 504.
If eligible, the team members will also offer suggestions for accommodations based on the individual needs of the student. They will also outline who, within the school, is responsible for implementing each of the services. Usually, there is an annual review to determine if the student is still eligible and to review the accommodations and see if changes need to be made.
The Teacher's Role
As the teacher, you should be involved in the evaluation process. During the evaluation, teachers are in a position to offer an insider view of the daily problems a student is having. This may mean you complete a questionnaire to be reviewed by the team or you may elect to attend the meetings. Some school districts encourage teachers to be in the meetings, giving their perspective and offering suggestions for accommodations. Because teachers are often the first line in implementing classroom accommodations, it makes sense for you to attend meetings so you better understand what is expected and you can voice objections if you feel an accommodation would be too disruptive for the rest of your class or too difficult to carry out.
Once the Section 504 has been developed and accepted by the parents and the school, it is a legal contract. The school is responsible for making sure all aspects of the agreement are carried out. Teachers do not have the ability to decline or refuse to implement accommodations listed in the Section 504. They cannot pick and choose which accommodations they want to follow. If, after the Section 504 has been approved, you find that certain accommodations are not working in the student's best interest or interfere with your ability to teach your class, you must talk with your school's 504 Coordinator and request a meeting with the educational team. Only this team can make changes to the Section 504 Plan.
You may also want to attend the annual review. Usually Section 504 plans are reviewed on an annual basis. During this meeting the educational team will decide whether the student is still eligible and if so, whether the previous accommodations should be continued. The team will look to the teacher to provide information about whether the student utilized the accommodations and whether these accommodations helped the student within the classroom. Additionally, the educational team will look toward the coming school year to see what needs the student has.
Frequently Asked Questions About Section 504 and the Education of Children with Disabilities, Modified 2011, Mar 17, Staff Writer, U.S. Department of Education: Office for Civil Rights
IEP's vs. 504 Plans, 2010 Nov 2, Staff Writer, Sevier County Special Education
Section 504 Handbook, 2010, Feb, Kittery School Department