The end of summer and the beginning of the school year is always a bittersweet time for me. I love the lazy days, the late nights, but my son has always looked forward to the start of school. It was in 2005 when, my then 5 year old, began kindergarten, eager, and excited, yet I could tell something wasn’t quite right. He was tired, cranky, and guzzled bottle after bottle of water each day. He was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes two weeks into his very first school year.
For us, back to school has always meant a combination of collecting school supplies, diabetes supplies for the school nurse, and the preparation of our 504 plan. “504” is the shorthand term used for the accommodations which our children are entitled to under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. A 504 plan is a document that outlines accommodations you’re your child will have during the school year. Every school has their own way of handling these plans and may have their own forms. A good resource for getting started can be found on the ADA’s website that offers a bit of detail and a good example of what a plan might look like.
For us, the decision to ask for 504 accommodations was simple even though he was only a small child just starting school. While our school seemed more than willing to do whatever was necessary to help our son, we knew that having these items in an official format protected our son in a way that a verbal agreement would not. Staff in a school can change and a 504 plan ensured that no matter who was involved, his needs would be met.
In his early years of school, the 504 covered very basic items; the ability to visit the nurse when needed, the access to water and the bathroom as needed, the option for one parent to attend a field trip, the ability for blood glucose testing and insulin injections to be given anywhere in the school, and for a parent to be notified in advance for any classroom snacks. As he grew we added items like self-management in the classroom and accommodations that took into account pumping and CGM usage. We’ve been able to easily add on state testing accommodations that allow him to keep low supplies with him during a test, and to reschedule a test if his blood sugar was out of range. None of these options would have been available to us without a 504. The possible accommodations are endless and should take into account the needs of your child. I’ve known families writing items into their 504 plans that take into account sports, homework, and sick days.
My advice to parents is this; ask for a 504-eligibility meeting and begin the process with a call to your principal during the first week of school. There are no drawbacks to putting a 504 plan in place, only benefits. Keep it simple yet ask for what you really need. It shouldn’t be seen in an adversarial light, it should be seen as a simple way to make sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to the care of your child at school.
By Michelle Campbell