Back to School: How the 504 May Be Keeping Your Kid From Adulting

Let me start by first saying that the title of this post is not meant to discourage you from putting a 504 Plan into place for your child. In fact, we have one in place for our son.

The purpose of this post is to help parents understand “the system” and become aware that these services exist.

But also to make sure you & your child understand what the Plan’s purpose is: to give them equal access to an education, and what its purpose is not: to give them less work or to get them out of certain classes or assignments. Although the accommodations might cut their work load down or allow them out of certain classes or assignments.

It can be confusing.

In case you aren’t sure what having a 504 even means, I’ll explain:  Section 504 is part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.  It’s part of the civil rights law, and its purpose is to prohibit discrimination based on a mental or physical disability. 

Here’s another post, filled with answers to lots of frequently asked questions about the 504.

How The 504 Plan May Be Keeping your Kid From Adulting | Bring Mommy A Martini

Basically, it serves to sort-of level the playing field, to give a student with a disability the same opportunities for success as those without a disability. 

It’s a list of accommodations offered to students who aren’t eligible for special education services, but their special health needs require special consideration, and slightly different rules.

For example, if a child has anxiety and loud noises are a trigger, a 504 plan might include:

* The student is given a heads-up before a fire drill
* The student is provided noise-canceling ear protection
* The student is allowed to eat lunch in the library or counselor’s office if necessary
* The student’s grades will not be negatively impacted for absences associated with anxiety

It’s brilliant, if used properly 

But I’m not always a fan, and here’s why:  after about 13 years in advertising and marketing, I decided I was done with that career, and got my teaching certificate in secondary-level business education. 

I taught eighth-graders for three and a half years, and I loved it. 

I don’t want this post to go off on a random tangent, so I’ll give you the scoop on the reason why I got out of teaching in this brief nutshell: I got an advertising freelancing gig while I was out on maternity leave from teaching, and it let me stay home with my new baby.

Most of my students were lovely.  I even still keep in touch with a handful of them – mature, responsible grown men and women, who have gone on to graduate from college and become productive citizens. 

A few of them had 504 Plans in place. 

Their 504 helped them succeed when they needed it.  The system worked for them. 

Then there were a few (a very few) who had 504 Plans that didn’t work for them.  Their 504’s didn’t work because they took advantage of the system.  They leaned on their 504 Plan – used it as an excuse to do less.  

Worse still, their parents helped them use it as a crutch.  (If there's anything I can't stand more than a laziness, it's parents who perpetuate it.)

As a teacher, you are required to follow the student’s 504 Plan.  If the kid has dysgraphia and their 504 says to provide them extra time to complete handwritten assignments, the teacher is required to give them that extra time. 

The problem I had with some of these students was that they abused that extra time. 

They didn’t want to even try to complete their work within the same deadline parameters as the rest of the class. 

Or they’d tell me they couldn’t write their full heading on their paper (a requirement in my class, mainly just to teach kids to follow instructions), even if that wasn’t included in their 504. 

I even had a conference with one student’s parents who offered to write their kid’s heading on one piece of paper for him, then make copies of a stack so he wouldn’t have to write his heading himself.  Hand to God, that happened.  

As a teacher, I followed the 504 Plans to the letter, to make sure the students had the accommodations they needed (plus, it's required by law). 

But I also wanted to push them. Encourage them to push their limits.

To show them how capable they were.

After more than a decade in the business world, I knew that employers simply are not concerned about your dysgraphia or your anxiety or your whatever.  They don’t care if you need extra time to write a proposal, and they certainly won’t cut you slack on “grading” based on excessive absences.

I learned a lot about being a mom when I was a teacher.  I learned what I don’t want to see in my kids.

Both of my boys have ADHD, and I don’t normally tell people about it for one main reason:  I don’t want my kids to have special rules.  I’m not doing them any favors later in life if they get accommodations made for them while they’re in school.   

I don’t want them to get extra time for assignments, or for the teacher to ignore any of their “minor classroom interruptions.” 

How will they ever survive real life if we accommodate for these things?

My oldest son is now 20, and he’s a nice enough person, but he’s lazy AF

My experience as a teacher and as a mom have taught me that laziness is pre-programmed into most teens, and it carries on into young adulthood for some, apparently. 

The last thing I want for my boys is to enable the laziness, for crying out loud. 

Here’s what I tell my kids:  if you have a hurdle that others don’t have, then you just have to work harder than others. 

Here’s a giant “BUT,” though:

My younger son didn’t have a tremendously successful year several years ago.  His teacher had one foot out the door, and wasn’t interested in going the extra mile to teach to each child’s learning style (which you have to do in those younger grades!). 

Just like grown-ups, some kids learn visually, some learn by doing, blahblahblah

As a school teacher, you have to be fluid in your techniques, presenting the material in a more visual way to some, in a more tactile way to others, and in a more audible way in others. 

You have to.  It’s your damn job.

Sometimes you have to put a 504 Plan into place, if only to force the teacher to do their job.  I should have done that for my son, but I didn’t. 

Luckily, he’s had incredible teachers ever since, so it was mostly a non-issue, but we did eventually have to put one in place for him, because he truly does need the playing field leveled.

Here’s my plan going forward, and my suggestion to you, if your child needs accommodations: 

1.     Communicate with the teacher from the get-go, at the beginning of the school year, to let them know what your concerns are.

2.     Stay in touch with the teacher via email, but not annoyingly so.  Maybe just check in on your kid’s progress at the 3- to 4-week mark.

3.     After the first report card, decide if a 504 plan needs to be put in place (to help give the teacher ideas on how to support your child, or to force them to do what they’re supposed to do).

4.     Use the 504 as a support/supplement/safety net for your child – not a crutch or an excuse to do less work.

5.     Remind your kiddo of all their awesome strengths, and give them tools to conquer their “weaknesses,” so they’ll learn to manage their needs throughout their life, without expecting others to make things easier on them.  Because that's not going to happen.

If you decide to go the 504 route, here are some resources for you:

U.S. Department of Education

Also, look what I made for you! A customizable document that you can add your child’s special circumstances and send to his teachers and 504 team.

What do you think?  I'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences on this!