504, IEP, and other educational jargon

Having taught for most of my adult life, and working with high-schoolers for the last 5 years, I am quite familiar with 504s and IEPs.

An IEP is an Individual Education Plan or Program which, as a Montessori teacher, I feel every child inherently possesses. But the term IEP refers to a legal document, which outlines accommodations and special services that will be offered to students with learning disabilities while they are enrolled at their school (usually public, but not always).

A 504 plan, on the other hand, generally refers to kids with physical disabilities or special needs. This is a less involved, but still legal, document which outlines the specific needs of the student, and lets teachers and staff members at the school know how to accommodate them so that they are not academically punished for things that are beyond their control.

As a teacher in a high school, I usually receive scads of these documents at the beginning of the year. I look them over before the student joins my classroom. Then, after a few weeks of getting to know the students, I pull them out again to see if I am seeing the same person that the document outlines. I also take a moment to reflect on how to best meet his or her needs.

Some of the documents at this age act as more of an FYI: the student has a condition which may never manifest itself in the classroom, but might cause absences due to specialty visits or surgeries. Some of them are even outdated.

I was very concerned when I had a student who had, according to the document, a tremendous fear of dogs. I was instructed to give the child the option of leaving the room if a dog was ever spotted near my classroom. I thought, "When will there ever be a dog in or near my classroom?"

Well, as it happened that year, I was a "traveling" teacher (one who did not have a classroom to call her own, but borrowed other teacher's rooms for teaching). And guess what?  I ended up on the ground floor of the building with a large window facing over the neighbor's yard: a neighbor who happened to be outside with her large dog throughout the entire period in which I taught this student.

Every day.

While I sweated out how to accommodate my student's needs, I discovered that the 504 was written when he was six years old. After some discussion with the student, I learned that the concerns outlined in the document no longer applied, and I needn't draw the shades during class.

Obviously with diabetes, it's different. It will always apply, because one does not outgrow it, as one might outgrow a fear of dogs.

I am not sure how much a 504 helps students with diabetes.

There are parents that swear by them (laminate that 504 and nail it to the teacher's door). I just don't happen to be one of them.

So, yeah. Sometimes M's teachers forget that she has diabetes.

But I also know students at my own school, who have very clear 504 plans, and very vocal parents, who are still given grief when they need to go to the nurse's office, or are accused of texting in class when they are actually giving themselves a bolus while using their pump. Parents can yell and point at the 504 plan. They can hold annual meetings. They can even call in a lawyer. But it really doesn't save them a lot of work. It is still up to the student to remind the adults in the room that they need accommodations.

Which I guess is the real lesson, here. While younger children might not be able to, teens need to advocate for themselves, even if it is before, during, or after class. Even if it doesn't seem fair. Even if people "should" know. Even if they don't want to talk about it in front of their peers.

The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

A good health advocate is learning skills for life.

Educating others helps us all.

Insert platitude here.

But, it's true. And M is learning that it is so.  Even if she doesn't like it.


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