You know that IEPs and 504 Plans are different. And you know that IEPs have more “teeth” – so to speak. Which might make you think that your child’s 504 Plan accommodations won’t be honored during the school shutdown. But that’s not entirely true – you can get 504 Plan accommodations for distance learning!
Yes! You Can Get 504 Plan Accommodations for Distance Learning!
Right now, your child’s plan is set up for the classroom and the school setting. Depending on your child’s disability, there are practically limitless options for your child’s accommodations.
You might be seeing things like this:
- Sensory breaks
- Extra time on classwork and assignments
- Quiet space to take tests and assessments
- Wider aisles in the classroom
- Use of the elevator
- Large print
- Social skills support
These are all great when your child is physically in the classroom, but what about now that you’re doing distance learning?
Your Child’s 504 Plan Can Still Be Supported During Distance Learning
Your child’s environment has changed, but they might still need supports to truly access educational content even when learning from home.
And yes, it can be done. In fact, it’s a federally protected civil right. Section 504 of the ADA still matters, even when your child isn’t physically in the school setting.
What’s Section 504 About Anyway?
It’s part of the Americans with Disabilities Act and guarantees any child with a documented disability or diagnosis that might prevent them from accessing education on the same level as their typically developing peers.
That’s a LOT of fancy language to basically say that Section 504 helps kids with physical, mental, emotional, visual, auditory or intellectual disabilities get educated. The catch? That education is going to be on the same level as their same-age peers, no modifications.
Get more info about the differences between IEPs and 504s
And that means that if everyone else is learning multiplication tables, so is your child. But they might have fewer examples to complete on worksheets or they might get alternative ways to show their mastery.
It’s about access to the same places and content and learning that everyone else gets, at grade level. So 504 Plans work on leveling the playing field: wider hallways, Braille print books, elevators, sensory breaks, extra time, and more.
What This Means for Your 504 Plan & Distance Learning
It’s about FAPE – free access to public education – and not a particular physical setting.
Which means that you can leverage your child’s current 504 Plan during this distance learning situation we’re all currently working through.
Right now, your child’s learning environment is digital. That 504 Plan just went online!
Your child’s 504 needs to be adjusted to meet the needs of this new educational setting.
Smart 504 Swaps for Distance Learning You Can Use
Right now, we’ve been at this for just over a month in most of the US. We’ve all had some time to figure out a little bit of a routine.
There’s been a chance to see how much of the learning and teaching is going to be online – and see where your child is struggling.
Ask for these accommodations;
- Extra time for assignments
- Extra time for assessments
- Shortened assignments
- Alternative assessments to show the same skills
- Checklists and to-do lists
- Printed or printable packets of work
How Do I Know What to Ask For?
There’s no hard and fast set of accommodations for a particular disability or diagnosis. Every child is unique and need different things to succeed in school, even just to access the educational setting or content.
Think back over the last few weeks. Ask yourself:
- What has been the most challenging part of doing work at home for your child?
- Where has your child struggled with online learning?
- What would make it easier for your child to access the content?
- What could change about the content or the path to accessing the content?
The answers to these questions will help you to see where the areas of need are and think about ways to make changes that matter for your child.
Next Steps for Your Child’s 504 Plan for Distance Learning
You’ve thought about what’s preventing your child from fully accessing the educational content and assignments that are part of today’s distance learning. You have a shortlist of ways that things could be tweaked to allow your child FAPE.
Now you need to start a conversation with the teacher and school about making changes to their 504 Plan to accommodate distance learning.
Start with an email. Explain what you’ve observed at home – the hurdles and struggles that come with distance learning. Share how they are likely related to your child’s particular diagnosis or disability.
Ask for a virtual meeting. Set the time, date, and video conferencing service you’ll be using – FaceTime, Zoom, Facebook messenger, and Skype are fairly universal.
Before the meeting, ask if they are okay with you recording the meeting. If they decline, let them know that you’ll be taking very clear notes and will be checking back to clarify the meeting’s highlights via email.
At the meeting, explain what’s been happening with distance learning. Share the struggles and successes, but really dig into how your child’s unique diagnoses or disabilities are preventing FAPE. Suggest a few ways to make small changes that will help your child more equitably access the digital learning content.
You’re also going to ask for the 504 Plan to be reverted to the current, pre-pandemic agreement as soon as school opens again – whenever that may be.
After the meeting, send an email to clarify everything you discussed and agreed to during the virtual meeting. Detail the point-by-point changes that will be happening in the 504 Plan. You’re also going to confirm that the plan will go back to how it was when school reopens. Get this agreement in writing.
When you get the amended 504 Plan, review it carefully and compare it to your notes from the meeting. When you’re happy, sign your agreement and send it back to the school. If not, start back at the top of these steps and repeat until you’re satisfied.