504 Plans: Support Your Child With Diabetes at School
Individualized Education Programs and 504 Plans are school support initiatives for kids with diabetes. Navigating school with diabetes can be tough, but these plans can make it a little bit easier.
For families of children with type 1 diabetes, the start of the school year can be nerve-wracking. Students are eager to meet teachers, see old friends, and make new ones. Parents of students with diabetes may be nervous about letting schools take over their child’s diabetes management and meet their child’s needs.
I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes five years ago at age 21. I was a senior in college and had begun my first semester teaching in a fifth-grade classroom. I learned the ropes of teaching under the guidance of a veteran teacher while also navigating my diabetes diagnosis.
Over the past five years, I’ve taught at the elementary school level, educating many students about my experience with diabetes while trying to foster positive relationships with them. I’ve also taught many students who needed school support plans for various disabilities, including autism, ADHD, and anxiety.
These initiatives, which include Individualized Education Programs (IEP) and 504 Plans, allow students with disabilities – including chronic conditions like diabetes – extra accommodations to help them succeed in the school setting.
What is a 504 Plan?
A 504 Plan is a legal document that lays out specific accommodations or modifications that school staff must provide for your child. The name refers to section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which is a federal law that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities – including diabetes.
If a child has a disability that impacts their ability to learn in any way, they qualify for a 504 Plan. This document also holds schools accountable for meeting the needs of children and ensuring staff members are adequately trained on disabilities and health conditions like type 1 diabetes. If these plans are not being followed, the first step is talking with teachers and school administration. If problems persist, complaints can be made to the Office of Civil Rights in your state.
Why should my child have a 504 Plan?
Diabetes is always a balancing act that can be especially hard for children to manage. That includes dealing with sudden low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) episodes or high blood sugar spikes that result in frequent trips to the bathroom.
In addition, you never know when diabetes technology will fail. It’s best to have accommodations in place ahead of time so that when diabetes demands attention at school, learning isn’t negatively affected as a result.
A 504 Plan is individualized to each student, so you can decide what accommodations are best for your child. A 504 Plan can mandate extra bathroom breaks, more time on assignments, permission to eat whenever necessary, extra absences, and so much more. Don’t let diabetes catch your child off guard at school – get those plans in place.
What is an Individualized Education Program?
An IEP is a plan developed for children with disabilities who require specialized instruction. IEPs are covered by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). These plans or programs lay out a child’s educational performance levels, their progress in a general education classroom, the specific accommodations they qualify for, and their annual educational goals.
Why should my child have an IEP?
If diabetes is a significant barrier that negatively impacts your child’s educational success (or they have multiple disabilities) then an IEP may be for you. An IEP sets measurable goals for each student, which can help track their academic progress each year.
These plans are clearly written with the exact services each child requires throughout the day. An IEP can ensure that students are getting the exact support they need to be successful in the classroom.
504 Plans versus IEPs: What’s the difference?
To be serviced under an IEP, a student’s education must be adversely affected by at least one of the 13 disability categories covered in IDEA. These include:
Autism spectrum disorder
Mental health disorders
Speech or language impairments
Traumatic brain injury
Any other health impairments
A 504 Plan is for students with a disability or impairment that may limit their ability to learn. If a student doesn’t qualify for services under an IEP but still requires accommodations, then they can get a 504 Plan.
How to get an IEP
Every school is different, so the process may vary depending on the school district. However, your first step as a parent or caregiver will always be to contact a teacher or school administrator who can begin the referral process.
Each school has a team to conduct various special education assessments including school psychologists, social workers, educational diagnosticians, and other staff members who can complete the required assessments.
You will then have an eligibility meeting to discuss the school’s findings. If your child is found eligible for an IEP, they will then begin the drafting process and discuss the services required. If your child is not found eligible for an IEP, then a 504 Plan may be the best fit.
How to get a 504 Plan
Similar to requesting an IEP, contact a teacher or school administrator to begin the referral process. This will also include an eligibility meeting. Come to the meeting prepared with necessary paperwork, doctors' notes, and lists of accommodations you think may be helpful and why.
Plan out your child’s needs in advance so you can work with your school team to decide on what accommodations will work best. Your school should work with you through the referral process to successfully get you what you need. Know your rights as a parent.
In conclusion, 504 Plans and IEPs can be highly beneficial for children with diabetes. Navigating school with diabetes can have its highs and lows, but these plans can make it a little bit easier