Accommodations and accessibility
March 6, 2020
Students with learning challenges have multiple options for support, both formal and informal, that they can receive in the classroom.
For many, these accommodations come in the form of IEPs and 504 plans.
IEPs and 504 plans developed to ensure that a child who has a disability that is recognized under law has access to specialized instruction and other related services. Although they are created for similar purposes, the main difference is that students with 504s do not require specialized instruction.
While IEPs have funding and money tied to the program, 504 plans do not. This causes IEPs to have a higher level of requirement to be eligible for a special education.
Administrative consultant Steve Crew is responsible for ensuring that the districts are obeying the policies and procedures.
“They are required by law to make sure those students civil rights are not violated,” Crew said. “No matter how severe a students [needs] are, the district has to be able to provide those services.”
Some students, however, feel that these policies are not successful.
“In school, it’s been a little less helpful just because my teachers don’t seem to recognize the fact that I have them,” Yacopucci said. “I feel like they are very much ignored… and I know it’s really hard for a lot of kids to actually get them.”
All Iowa school’s are required to have a designated 504 plan coordinator to oversee that these accommodations are being met. For West High, Molly Abraham is in charge of this.
According to Abraham, it’s crucial that students talk to their guidance counselor if they feel as though their plan isn’t being followed.
“It unfortunately has to be a two way street. Once they leave this setting, it’ll be a one-way street, they’ll have to be the one to ask for them which is tough,” Abraham said. “So I guess in a way it’s getting them ready for that too.”
Once a student is diagnosed with a disability, the medical records are released to the school. Families are then given the opportunity to meet with Abraham to discuss a potential plan.
According to guidance counselor Greg Yoder, it’s imperative that the goals in the plan are attainable.
Once the plan has been agreed upon, it is then sent out to teachers on a trimester basis.
“If something’s not a realistic accommodation to be having in college we typically don’t try to implement that at the high school level,” Yoder said. “ We don’t want to set students up to fail down the road.”
Accommodations on standardized testing can also be an option for students with learning disabilities. Yacopucci found these were beneficial to her.
“Just extra time in general was such a relief,” Yacopucci said. “I felt like pressure lifted off my shoulders and I felt like I was able to concentrate and look at the questions more.”
Although the accommodations may be helpful, it can be challenging to receive the support from the accommodations that are needed.
“All of my other teachers expect me to bring them up, even though they are implemented by the school, and all the teachers have access to the fact that I have them,” Yaccopucci said. “It puts a lot of pressure on the student that already has issues.”
Norris echoes Yacopucci’s views on how difficult it is to approach teachers about her accommodations.
“Having anxiety, it’s really hard to make that leap to actually open up to a teacher,” Norris said. “It’s something very personal, and you don’ t always want to have that conversation… It kind of makes you feel like you’re less than them.”
Student Family Advocate Jamie Schneider emphasizes the importance of communication between teachers and students. By doing this, the student will be able to confirm their accommodation plan with their teachers. Her advice is to find a trusted adult to help facilitate the conversation.
“I 100% do not think it’s about staff or teachers not wanting to follow any type of plan, I think it’s just there’s a breakdown sometimes between the communication between the adults and the students,” Schneider said. “I really think that the students can do more in building those self-advocacy skills… grab an adult that you trust and feel comfortable with, and go talk to those teachers together.”