Special Accommodations in School

Attending school can be difficult at times when you are living with spondylitis. However, accommodations can be made to make things a little easier. Teens who have spondylitis may qualify for protections under the Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which is enforced by the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights.

For those teens that require even more specialized educational instruction, they are protected through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which is enforced by the US Office of Special Education, State Education agencies, and other enforcement agencies.

For protections under either of these, written plans are required, which must be developed and implemented by public schools to allow for accommodations or provisions to be made to the teen's education plan.

504 Plans

Even though a student may have what is considered to be a disability, it does not mean that he or she automatically qualifies for special education services under the IDEA. For many teens, the idea of being labeled as needing "special education" can be damaging to their self-esteem when all that may require are certain program modifications or supplemental aids to improve their participation in school.

Under section 504, it is not required that the disability adversely affects academic performance, unlike the eligibility requirements under IDEA. Therefore, the 504 Plan may be most appropriate for teens living with spondylitis as it allows for accommodations but does not require the student to be labeled as needing special education.

To meet eligibility requirements under Section 504, the student must have a physical or mental impairment, which substantially limits a major life activity. This criterion is broad and allows for the student's eligibility to be determined by his or her school. Major life activities include such things as walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, writing, performing math calculations, working, caring for oneself, and performing manual tasks. Many activities are included under this category allowing the school's discretion to determine if the student's disability substantially limits a major life activity.

Once a student is determined to be eligible for protections under Section 504, a written plan, commonly referred to as a 504 Plan, must be drafted. Each public school should have a person (usually an assistant principal or a guidance counselor) who serves as the school's "504 Coordinator." This person is usually responsible for the development, maintenance, and implementation of 504 Plans.

Every school follows different practices in the development and implementation of individual 504 plans. Typically, teachers and administrators develop plans to provide instructional and environmental accommodations for students, however, it should be noted that under a 504 plan the student's curriculum will not be altered.

Some examples of accommodations for teens that have spondylitis may be:

  • Extra set of textbooks for home use (to limit the amount of weight carried home after school)
  • Rearranging class schedules (to allow for extra time in the morning)
  • Provisions to allow for stretching when needed (to combat stiffness)

Individual Education Program (IEP)

For students with disabilities who require specialized instruction, the IDEA controls the process requirements, which are much more involved than what is required under Section 504.

So, what is the big IDEA?

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a law that ensures that students with disabilities receive free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment; meaning, children with disabilities should not be unnecessarily separated from their peers. IDEA provides guidelines for states and school districts to provide special education and related services in exchange for federal funding.

To be eligible for disability services under IDEA, a disability must affect the child's educational performance. The IDEA lists 13 different disability categories under which 3 through 21-year-olds may be eligible for services.

Once a child is found to be eligible for disability services, parents and teachers work together as equal partners in a formalized process to develop an Individualized Education Program. This plan will list special education services that the child will receive, based on their individual needs. This may include special education, related services, supplementary aids and services, program modifications and support for school staff. This plan is reevaluated periodically to ensure that the student's educational needs are being met throughout their public school educational career.

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