High School Student’s Lack of Effort/Negative Attitude Toward School May Signal Need to Reevaluate and Update 504 Plan

In Ms. H v. Montgomery County Board of Education, 56 IDELR 268 (May 12,2011) a  U.S. District Court in Alabama ruled that the mother of a high school girl with ADHD had stated a claim that her daughter’s frequent tardies, failure to complete work, and refusal to participate in class should have signaled the school district to reevaluate her 504 Plan. The school district had argued that the mother’s 504 case should be dismissed because the daughter’s academic struggles were due to her poor attitude and participation in school, not her disability. The court noted that the student had a negative attitude and put little effort into her classes.

But the court also noted that the school district had not conducted any new tests or assessments of the student between 2001 and 2009. Moreover, her 504 Plans developed during her freshman, sophomore, and junior years were nearly identical. The judge stated:

“For example, [the student’s] plans were barely altered from the beginning of ninth grade through the end of eleventh grade, despite the fact that [the student] had failed classes and graduation examinations during that period.”

While, the Judge acknowledged that the girl’s lack of success may have been caused by her own actions, the fact that the school district had not reassessed her or modified her 504 Plan for years, supported denying the district’s motion to dismiss the mother’s claim.

The bottom line is the school district should not just continue the same 504 Plan and level of accommodations, without review, in the face of a student’s struggles in school. The student’s poor participation is a warning sign that, perhaps, a change is needed in the 504 Plan. 

 

Father’s Girlfriend Did Not Have Authority to Cancel Boy’s 504 Plan

     Some cases have more interesting facts than others. In Chicago (IL) Public Schools, 56 IDELR 54 (OCR July 2, 2010), the school district violated Section 504 when it discontinued a sixth-grader’s 504 plan at the request of the father’s girlfriend and without informing the father or conducting an evaluation. The student has ADD and ADHD and had a 504 Plan developed in April 2007 that provided a variety of accommodations to ensure his equal access to the district’s educational program. The 504 Plan was signed by the father and his girlfriend, who was living with the father at that time. Although the girlfriend was not the student’s mother, she signed the 504 Plan on a signature line designated for the mother. Two years later, in April 2009, because he was concerned  about his son’s school work, the father called the school district and asked whether his son had been receiving the accommodations required on his 504 Plan. The father was surprised to learn that the school district had discontinued  the 504 Plan in April 2008 at his girlfriend’s request.

     The school explained that in April 2008 the girlfriend called the school nurse and asked her to terminate the 504 services being provided to the student. At that time, the girlfriend stated that she felt the student was doing fine in his classes and no longer needed the accommodations. The district did not convene a meeting, conduct an evaluation, or notify the father of his rights and procedural safeguards before ceasing the 504 services. The father filed a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights alleging the 504 Plan had been illegally terminated.

     The Office for Civil Rights determined the school district should not have terminated the 504 Plan at the request of the girlfriend and without notifying the father. Even though the girlfriend “held herself out” as the student’s parent, there was nothing in the student’s file indicating she fit that definition under Illinois state law. Illinois state law referred to the IDEA definition of parent. The IDEA provides that the biological or adoptive parent is presumed the parent unless they lack the authority to make educational decisions for the child. Although the girlfriend attended the 504 planning meeting and filled in her name on “emergency contact” forms as the mother, she was not, in fact, the child’s parent. Thus, the school district was required to presume the father was the parent and was the only person authorised to make educational decisions.

     To resolve the father’s complaint, the school district agreed to provide training to school staff regarding the 504 procedural safeguards, including the requirements to notify parents of their rights under Section 504. Moreover, the district agreed to determine if the student was denied a free appropriate education during the time the 504 Plan was not in effect and, if so, what compensatory services might be necessary to make up for the educational loss. There is no mention of the outcome of the father’s relationship with the girlfriend.

 

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