District Restructures 504 Management

Nick Johnson, staff writer

Management of 504 plans, an aspect of the special ed department that is designed to give support to students with disabilities, has been changed recently by the administration of the Acalanes Union High School District. Each student’s counselor and the assistant principal assigned to them will now meet with the 504 student and their parents to discuss the appropriate educational plan and accommodations, according to counselor Duane Magno.

According to the National Center for Learning Disabled, a 504 plan is a plan guaranteed by law to certain students with disabilities. Special Education teacher Evan Sebree explained the differences between a 504 plan and an Independent Education Plan (IEP). “An IEP is much more involved and it typically involves special education classes in a student’s daily schedule. An IEP is a heavily documented program where each student has a contract with the school district that may include accommodations and or modifications to assist their meeting of their educational goals. A 504 is an understanding between the counseling department and the general education teachers that a student might need a little more educational assistance,” he said.

In California schools, students who have a legally recognized disability that in some way inhibits their education receive accommodations that will make their learning experience easier. “Let’s say a student has a disability like dyslexia. A 504 plan may provide a student an opportunity to use assisted technology or an alternate means of demonstrating their knowledge,” Sebree said.

Since the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Acalanes Union High School District has employed a central coordinator for 504 plans. This person would visit each school in the district and make sure that the accommodations that the students needed were met. Additionally, they would talk to parents about their student’s progress, according to Magno.

Magno said that Jackie Chivani was the last coordinator to hold this position, but she retired after the 2013-14 school year, so a new management system was created.

“This year, the district has adopted a more site-based approach to 504 plans, with counselors and assistant principals sharing many of the duties that were previously handled by Jackie Chiavini,” Magno said.

Assistant Principal Karen Findlay, who, under the new system, now manages some 504 students, believes that the new changes will be beneficial to students. “I think it’s actually good for students. I get to meet the students with 504s, be in the meetings, with the counselors and the students, and I think that’s a good thing,” she said.

Students will not have to adapt to many changes that come with the new system. “The plans they’ve had before and the accommodations they’ve had in place won’t be any different.  The big difference, hopefully on the positive end, is that the counselors and assistant principals likely know the students and families they work with better than someone working at the district-level and that hopefully means that issues, concerns, and feedback can be addressed more quickly and more easily if or when they arise,” Magno said.

Findlay does not forsee any potential problems. “I think its going to run smoothly,” she said.