Some 504 plans not clearly communicated, students say


Kamryn Harty

Because she has ADD, sophomore Carson Gray sometimes has trouble focusing during school. Her 504 plan is getting approved for the next school year.

Kamryn Harty, Online Comment Section Editor

At 12 years old, doctors diagnosed sophomore Carson Gray with Attention Deficit Disorder, but this year was the first time she heard about Grady’s 504 Plan from her doctor.

According to the Atlanta Public Schools website, the 504 Plan “prohibits discrimination against individuals whose physical or mental impairment substantially limits one or more major life activities.”

For students like Gray, whose condition falls under a learning impairment, the 504 Plan is supposed to alleviate discrimination against students with learning impairments. Individualized plans differ, but some allot extra testing time on assessments and schedule regular meetings with a counselor.

Gray believes the 504 Plan is supposed to help make school slightly easier for students with a learning impairment and level the educational playing field for all students. By meeting with a counselor, students can talk over their options and schedules.

“Counselors are supposed to make you feel like you’re not different from anyone else or stand out,” Gray said. “The whole point of a 504 Plan is you do it separately, and usually more discreet, and counselors figure out this stuff. But I’ve never once met with my counselor.”

This is not an isolated incident. Sophomore Daniel Poss said his parents have met with his counselor once about his 504 Plan this year. He said he personally has never met with his counselor, but he doesn’t mind.

“It doesn’t really affect me much,” Poss said.

Because his ADHD isn’t too severe, Poss rarely uses the extra allotted testing time.

“The only thing that frustrates me is I don’t get to choose if I get the extra time [on standardized testing],” he says.

Trish Maxwell is Grady’s student support coordinator. Every day, she assists students with temporary or existing physical disabilities and helps students with learning disabilities navigate their way through high school. Maxwell also serves as the school’s 504 contact to help provide accommodations for students with learning disabilities, such as ADHD.

Maxwell says that 504 plans for students with ADHD are supposed to provide accommodations. Unlike modification plans for special education, which change the structure of learning, the 504 Plan gives students opportunities to “function in school optimally so they can achieve,” she says. This means that some plans allow for students to have a seat closer to the teacher to help them focus, or to take breaks in class.

Maxwell says this could mean adjusting policies, such as allowing the student to have multiple breaks, or small group testing in order improve successfulness.

“It could mean preferential seating,” Maxwell says, citing an example. “Where do they need to be so that they can really focus? It may mean having frequent breaks, so that they can move around. Or [it can be] small group testing, so they can be in a less-distracting environment.”

Maxwell said because each plan is personalized, she consistently communicates with students in order to modify their plans, or to create one for them. After forms are signed and an eligibility meeting is held, students can begin to create a plan that optimizes their learning environment. Although the 504 process has to be initiated by a parent, Maxwell says she hopes all students feel comfortable coming to her office to discuss a possible plan.

“I hope that … students talk to others, and that [can] inspire them to have confidence to step forward,” she said.

Maxwell recommends students talk to a trusted teacher, counselor, or nurse about their condition so that they can have a plan created for them to succeed in school. She stresses the individualization of each student’s plan, saying there are many accommodations that can be made for students with ADHD.

“Some [students] need more and some need less, so it’s on a continuum,” Maxwell said.

Maxwell also encourages students who feel a lack of transparency in their plan to be involved in the decision-making process for the contents of their plan.

“You have to advocate for yourself — whether it is college, career or medical treatment … It is really up to you to communicate what you need,” Maxwell said. “But students are always welcome to participate or just come speak to me.”