4 Steps to Developing Section 504 ‘Contingency Plans’

 “Creating a contingency plan before a COVID-19 outbreak occurs gives the child’s service providers and the child’s parents an opportunity to reach agreement as to what circumstances would trigger the use of the child’s distance learning plan and the services that would be provided during the dismissal,” advised the U.S. Education Department in Questions and Answers on Providing Services to Children with Disabilities During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 Outbreak, 76 IDELR 77 (EDU 2020). This response refers to the idea of putting a distance learning plan into a student’s IEP as a “contingency plan” in the event of an outbreak. But what about students with Section 504 plans? Are there any instances when adding a contingency plan to a Section 504 plan might be a good idea?

“The short answer is yes,” said Geneva L. Taylor, a school attorney at Geneva Jones and Associates, LLP in Houston. “Contingency plans can be included in Section 504 plans. While they are more prevalent in IEPs, especially for addressing behaviors, there are times in which a Section 504 student may need a contingency plan.”

Take these steps in the development of 504 contingency plans in your district:

  1. Identify the triggering event. If a school district gives parents the option between in-person and distance learning, consider what educational program will be necessary to meet the student’s needs if she will be doing the distance learning, Taylor

While it may not be necessary for all students who receive services or accommodations in their Section 504 plans, some 504 committees may find it appropriate to delineate different accommodations or services in the school setting than in the home, Taylor said. This would be because the student’s disability-related needs vary in the different environment, she said.

“The Section 504 committee would identify the accommodations for in-school instruction but may also identify a contingency plan of accommodations that are appropriate for the student in the distance learning environment,” Taylor said. “The triggering event would be the parents’ electing distance learning.”

  1. Talk it out. Discuss with the Section 504 committee, which should include the parents and, when appropriate, the student, any potential variances or other factors and whether a contingency plan is “We cannot anticipate everything, but we can develop a contingency plan for expected changes or triggering events that may affect the student,” Taylor said.

Talking with parents is critical, especially if you are looking at distance learning, because the student may requiresomething different than in a traditional 504 plan, she said. Parental input will be important because they will be experts on the home environment. Their participation in making changes for the student now that he will be learning at home is going to be critical.

  1. Develop the In order to prepare the contingency plan, ask yourself what the current 504 plan would look like in the new environment, Taylor said.

For example, preferential seating in the classroom may not be appropriate for a student participating in distance learning. Instead, the student may need additional check-ins by phone with her teacher or paraprofessional to make sure she is able to follow along and access instruction.

Another example might be a student who has a disability-related surgery scheduled, Taylor said. The 504 committee may develop a contingency plan because they believe the student’s disability-related needs will change during his recovery period. The triggering event would be how the student is recovering.

“The student may return to school from surgery wearing an eye cover for a period of time,” Taylor said. “Wearing the eye cover is a triggering event, and the 504 committee should determine if they anticipate any different or additional accommodations or services may be necessary if the triggering event takes place.”

4. Overcome software limitations to document the Software or documentation systems used for Section 504 plans vary across the country and don’t always lend themselves to contingency plans because of drop downs, Taylor said. Use the “Notes” area to document and explain the contingency plan. Include:

  • Notes on the Section 504 committee’s discussions about why a contingency plan may be
  • The triggering
  • Changes to the services or accommodations that will be made because of the triggering
  • The terminating event which will return the student to his “under normal circumstances” Section 504

August 20, 2020

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