So, let’s talk about the elephant in the room, the 504 Plan.
I say elephant, simply because it just seems to never come up in conversation when it should. Are there really advantages of having a 504 Plan? How do we know when it’s not or never discussed. At least that has been our experience. Let’s take a look at it now and see if we can figure out why.
When we first enrolled our food allergic Nat in PreK at our local elementary school, we were just a ball of nerves. How in the world were we going to get through this? We were leaving her with strangers who were going to have the responsibility now of taking care of her who knew nothing of food allergies. Nat was alone in the school of being the only child having severe food allergies. Needless to say we were nervous, but we had also done our homework (so we thought) on what we needed to discuss with the staff and how her daily routine would go while at school.
We made an appointment for the day before open house when all students and parents were invited to come meet their teachers and see their classrooms. We wanted and needed their undivided attention. The meeting took place with her teachers, the school nurse and the assistant principle. I came with everything in hand that I could think of to send to school that would be a good safety tool to show them. Let’s see:
Medication and Medication forms
These were all items and ideas that I had which I thought would be great for the teachers to have on hand and be great tools for assisting in her safety while at school. Luckily, they all agreed in accepting our items. As the meeting progressed, we all discussed her daily routine, the cafeteria, recess, her medication, etc. We all came to an agreement on how her day would go while at school and what measures were to be taken should an emergency situation arise.
Now, in saying that, we all AGREED! They were gracious enough to accommodate our wishes. Were they allowed not to? Hmmmm,….I think so. See, this was just a couple of parents asking if they would all agree on our terms of her day at school. There was no contract or any type of agreement signed stating that they would abide by those terms regardless of whether they wanted to or not.
Is there such an agreement? Absolutely, called a 504 Plan. With this plan you have the right to list the accommodations you would like your child to have at school and if all agree, you sign the contract. Think of the 504 as liability policy. Having a 504 in place ensures that your child will have a safe routine while at school. It also ensures that all staff involved with your child will follow the 504 plan and all it entails. It’s a great tool to have. So if this is the case, why does it get overlooked when you have that first meeting at school to enroll your child in their very first day of school? Could it be that issue of liability? Could it be that an agreement is just that…a verbal agreement, but a 504 Plan is more like a contract?
Let me continue first by saying that Nat’s school was extremely accommodating to us even without a 504 Plan. But after learning about a 504 Plan after she began 1st grade, was a little confusing to us. She’d been there since Pre-K and was going into her 3rd year and we were just then learning about the 504 Plan. A friend actually mentioned it to me, I then mentioned it to the school principal and that’s how we acquired our 504 Plan. Perhaps the school administration was unaware of such a plan. I honestly can’t say as to why we were not told about a 504 Plan in that first meeting for Pre-K that day, but it all worked out in the end and she has always been accommodated at school.
If you have never been told about a 504 Plan for your food allergic child, it’s never too late to ask.