We’re here to talk about the difficult challenge of what to do when your 504 plan is violated. Even after all of the best food allergy management planning, expect to have a snag or two. Most issues are misunderstandings or miscommunications and are easily fixed by an email, telephone call or short meeting with the teacher, principal and/or 504 coordinator. Remember to stay the collaborative and creative parent you are, and partner to resolve these types of issues.
On the other hand, when your child’s specified accommodation is not received on a consistent and conscientious basis, then a more direct and formal approach is necessary. What might a violation look like? Perhaps your teacher is having your child sit out in the hall during snack time. Maybe unsafe curriculum projects are continuously being used in the classroom without notice or accommodation. It could be that a student, teacher or school staff member is repeatedly harassing your child about his/her food allergies.
No matter what has transpired in a 504 violation, it’s a terrifying and angering experience simply because your child is at his/her most vulnerable outside of your care. In addition, it is always our hope that adults will behave as mature and responsible individuals, and when that doesn’t happen, it creates a mistrust that is not easily rebuilt.
Top 10 Tips for What to Do When Your 504 Plan is Violated
1. Gather Information
The first step in what to do when your 504 Plan is violated is to gather information. Whether a school staff member, a parent or your child has come to you with a deviation from your child’s 504 Plan, it’s best to talk to all individuals involved to determine what has transpired. While one’s primal instinct might be to throw on your leather chaps, burst through the saloon swinging doors and talk of running someone out of town, this isn’t a Wild West movie. And, you certainly won’t win any awards when it comes to being levelheaded and collaborative. So stay calm, do some upfront investigative work and collect the facts.
2. Document, Document, Document
The second step in what to do when your 504 Plan is violated is to document what has happened. You need to document what each person shares when you gather your information. Once you have all the information, place it into an outline format because it’s much easier to follow a string of events in an outline rather than reading a narrative.
If a school representative already knows of the 504 violation(s), he/she may volunteer to collect the facts and get back to you with their findings. Be gracious that the legwork is being done for you and set a time to reconnect to learn of his/her findings.
3. Be Communicative and Solution-Oriented
The third step in what to do when your 504 Plan is violated is to make sure that you are communicative and solution-oriented. While you or the school representative gathers this information, make sure to not be judgmental at the onset. Sometimes there are misunderstandings about what is truly happening, and you might be making a mountain out of a molehill for no reason. Often times an accommodation can be misinterpreted, which means a simple rewrite of an accommodation is necessary to create more clarity around what needs to be happening. If the situation is merely an adjustment to a routine, then be solution-orientated and assist in ironing out a resolution. However, if the situation is more serious in nature, as I said in the introduction of this entry, then we need to proceed to a formal route for resolution. Be sure to ask clarifying questions and paraphrase what someone has shared with you so you have a clear understanding.
4. Have In-person Meetings
The fourth step in what to do when your 504 Plan is violated is to have in-person meetings with school staff. I highly recommend a face-to-face meeting as telephone conversations and email can stifle and support miscommunication. In addition, you will have to make a decision on who to invite to a meeting based upon what is happening in your child’s world, i.e., if your child’s teacher is repeatedly deviating from the plan, then you might want to meet with the principal alone or request the 504 coordinator to join you. In this meeting, it’s important to bring your clear and concise outline that details the chain of events. At the end of the outline, you want to list your needs, i.e., items you want addressed and accomplished. Your Outline and List of Needs is of service to you and the school as it provides:
- Documentation regarding the violation(s)
- A chronological chain of events and a quick summary of the situation
- An agenda for the meeting
- The focus to be on you, your child and resolving the situation, not the school representative taking notes
- No chance of misinterpretation, or forgetting details as it’s all there on paper
5. Keep Organized
The fifth step in what to do when your 504 Plan is violated is to keep yourself focused by staying organized. Set up a folder on your computer and a hard file and label it 504 Violation. In these folders you will keep any documents that the school provides you, emails, hard copy along with your Outlines, List of Needs and documented telephone conversations, etc. Also, keep a calendar detailing the times of touch points with the school, and upcoming meetings.
6. Manage Stress
The sixth step in what to do when your 504 Plan is violated is to manage your stress levels while dealing with these issues. Make sure that you:
- Get the rest and eat a healthy diet as your body needs nourished during high stress situations.
- Breathe – Do some meditation, walks, quiet time, yoga, exercise, etc.
- Write down your feelings during these situations so that you’re able to map them out, maneuver through them and be able to articulate and care for yourself.
- Prepare and practice what you want to say in your meeting(s); you’ll feel more prepared.
- Check out how to keep your emotions in check in a meeting from the entry: Food Allergy School and What Not To Do, Number 3.
7. Bring in District Representatives
The seventh step in what to do when your 504 Plan is violated is to bring district representatives into the fold if you feel your’e not advancing in a timely fashion to a solution. Sometimes communication arrives at an impasse and you need more ideas at the table. Perhaps asking the district representative that is in charge of all the 504s, a district nurse, or district manager of human resources is in order. Leveraging everyone’s experiences with other schools within the district may be of benefit in resolving an ongoing issue.
8. Contact Your State Board of Education
The eighth step in what to do when your 504 Plan is violated is to contact your state board of education for assistance. While your state board of education has no authority to enforce the law of Section 504, it can assist your school in understanding how to comply with 504. Most board of education websites have a page dedicated to 504, see what is available online for your state, i.e., Minnesota Department of Education Section 504 page.
9. Hire a Civil Rights Attorney
The ninth step in what to do when your 504 Plan is violated is to hire a civil rights attorney. I think it’s obvious that this is an option, but one that may be a financial burden. I decided to list it anyway, because if I left it out, someone might post that I forgot an option. ; )
10. File a Complaint with the Office for Civil Rights
The tenth step in what to do when your 504 Plan is violated is to file a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights. If you feel that you have exhausted all efforts in resolving a 504 violation with your school, then filing a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights is a last resort. I cannot stress this enough…it’s really important to attempt to work things out with your school, and to do so in partnership. I tell parents and schools all the time, “You don’t want to be that parent, unless you absolutely have to.”
Lastly, and most importantly, there is no doubt that this is a very difficult time for you, but even more so for your child if he/she is old enough to know what is happening. Perhaps this is the first time your child has experienced untrustworthiness, lying, harassment, or combativeness regarding taking care of his/her food allergies. Your child may be feeling like he/she is unsafe, a nuisance, different, challenging, etc. Assure him/her that there are caring adults in the school environment that will keep him/her safe and that they should feel comfortable approaching for assistance.
You might wonder…am I speaking from experience in helping my clients or my own personal experience…both!
I’ve shared my view with you; please leave a comment and share your thoughts with me.