Ensuring that all children receive the necessary level of support during their learning is paramount to their future success in education. For individuals with special learning needs, the support of their teachers, counselors, and other educational staff are required for eliminating existing barriers and ensuring that they have equal access to the general education curriculum. For this reason, 504 plans have been developed; covered under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, these plans aim to give students with any type of disability the same level of educational access that their classmates receive. 504 plans are based on a variety of accommodations that range from environment improvement to instruction changes. Importantly, accommodations change how children learn rather than what they learn.
Based on the crucial role that 504 plans play in the educational setting, it was chosen to explore them further with the help of an interview with a student counselor. The purpose of the current paper is to identify how the requirements of students with disabilities are met within an educational context. The expertise of a school counselor is needed for offering a unique perspective on how facilities approach 504 plans as well as explaining their role in them.
Protocol for Initiating 504s Plans and IEPs
Before discussing the protocol for initiating 504s plans and Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), it is important to differentiate between them. While an IEP represents a blueprint explaining the plan for the special education experience of a child, a 504 plan refers to how a student will have access to learning (The Understood Team, 2018b). IEPs usually offer special services and education for meeting the unique needs of learners.
A 504 plan provides a chance to the learning environment to ensure that students with special needs receive the same access to education as other students. Regarding eligibility, a student that has one or more of the IDEA-listed disabilities that impact his or her educational performance is eligible for an IEP (The Understood Team, 2018b). For getting a 504 plan, a student can have any disability that impacts his or her learning ability.
The interview with Mrs. J, a school counselor, revealed that for initiating a 504 plan, several important steps should be undertaken. First, the needs of a chosen child should be documented through gathering all information available (The Understood Team, 2018a). Second, it is necessary to identify the coordinator of the plan within a particular setting. Third, a formal request should be written, to which a coordinator is responsible for responding. Fourth, it is important to evaluate the chosen 504 plans, including all relevant data from the medical records to school achievement. After the evaluation, the school management meets with the student to decide on 504 qualifications. The last step implies the collaboration between such stakeholders as school staff, parents, and children to create a plan.
For initiating an IEP, the process is more complex compared to 504 plans. First, it is necessary to collect evidence ranging from test scores to records of informal observations. At this stage, a parent is encouraged to meet with his or her child’s teacher for discussing any concerns (Stanberry, 2019). Second, a formal request for evaluation should be completed; importantly, the document should be supported by the evidence collected previously. The third stage, as indicated by Mrs. J, is getting a response from a school district.
The three main ways in which a district can respond include a response to intervention (RTI), request denial, and the agreement to proceed with the evaluation. During an RTI, a multi-tiered approach to addressing struggling learners’ needs is implemented. A student is closely monitored at each intervention stage for determining the need for future evaluations and interventions. Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) are used not enhancing success through technical assistance.
The Role of the School Counselor and Students with Special Needs
During the interview, Mrs. J indicated that her responsibilities were associated with ensuring that students with special needs receive the desired level of support within the educational setting. Within the context of 504 plans and IEPs, the assistance of counselors is highly needed because of several reasons. For instance, a counselor is expected to participate in staffing decisions such as providing relevant school information, monitoring attendance, address school-related challenges, provide counseling as needed (Prout & Brown, 2007). Also, during IEPs and 504 plans, a counselor should collaborate with the school staff and the student families for understanding students’ needs and developing appropriate strategies and options for modification.
Within the context of support plans and strategies, the professionals should provide school counseling curriculum lessons as well as both individual and group counseling for meeting the needs of students within the scope of a comprehensive support program (Kolos, 2009). These lessons are expected to yield positive benefits while also involving parents and caretakers in the educational process. Overall, when implementing IEPs and 504 plans, the counselors play the roles of advocates for students who have special needs not only in schools but also in community settings.
When exploring the subject of collaboration between the interviewed school counselor and existing counseling programs, it was identified that the majority of efforts were targeted toward providing relevant accommodations to students. The goal of collaboration between counselors and their schools is developing a framework with a personalized accommodation plan that fits the needs of selected students. Also, parents are closely involved in this process because they can give professionals a perspective on how their children can benefit from either a 504 or IEP plan. Therefore, there is an environment of collaborative planning, which is a problem-solving process that enables the emergence of the self-advocacy skills that are necessary for students with special learning needs.
During the collaboration, a school counselor reports the progress of a student to the school management and parents to track the success of a plan and propose further steps (Richards, Lawless Frank, Sableski, & Arnold, 2016). Within the environment of 504 or IEP plan implementation, the collaboration among professionals and families is considered crucial because of its goal-orientation and the provision of mutual benefits for all through the elimination of barriers, promotion of strengths, and resolution of differences.
The interview with a school counselor was a positive experience that allowed me to reveal important aspects associated with the implementation of 504 plans and IEPs. A counselor plays the role of a facilitator and advocate of student needs and offers a range of services that students need for improving their learning. The collaborative aspect of the program implementation is considered critical as it helps in effective decision-making.
Kolos, A. C. (2009). The role of play therapist in children’s transitions: From residential care to foster care. International Journal of Play Therapy, 18(4), 229-239.
Prout, H. T., & Brown, D. T. (Eds.). (2007). Counseling and psychotherapy with children and adolescents: Theory and practice for school and clinical settings (4th ed.). New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.
Richards, S. B., Lawless Frank, C., Sableski, M-K., & Arnold, J. M. (2016). Collaboration among professionals, students, families, and communities: Effective teaming for student learning. London, UK: Routledge.
Stanberry, K. (2019). The process of getting your child and IEP. Web.
The Understood Team. (2018a). 7 steps to getting a 504 plan for your child. Web.
The Understood Team. (2018b). The difference between IEPs and 504 plans. Web.