Augusta resident Debbie Murphy has never used the 504 plan she has in place with the Richmond County school system for her daughter, Rachel Cantu. However, she said, the document gives both of them peace of mind.
A 504 plan provides pupils who have a disability with the same access to the classroom curriculum as nondisabled pupils.
Rachel, 17, a Westside High School senior, was diagnosed with diabetes when she was in the fourth grade. She has had a 504 plan since she was in eighth grade.
"It just made sense to have something on file," said Ms. Murphy, who teaches gifted pupils at Glenn Hills Elementary School. She said the plan "formalizes" a school's responsibility to a child.
In Rachel's case, Ms. Murphy said, the 504 plan keeps her from being affected adversely during testing because of fluctuating blood sugar, which can affect the ability to think clearly.
Otherwise, she said, "She'd be penalized for a physical problem that had nothing to do with what she did and didn't know."
School officials said a 504 plan is not necessary for every child who has a medical condition or disability.
"It's really to put them on the same playing field as their peers so they're not at a disadvantage," said Deborah Franklin, the Columbia County school system assistant superintendent of student learning. "Just because you have a disability doesn't mean you need special accommodations."
Plans are reviewed annually, usually at the beginning of the school year, and monitored at the school level, said Sharon Harkrider, the Richmond County school system director of special education services.
"The 504 stays in effect as long as the disability is there," said Gina Bassford, the Aiken County Public Schools section 504 district coordinator.
She said pupils with 504 plans include those who have cancer, asthma, arthritis, allergies, epilepsy, diabetes and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.
School administrators said some children have health care plans, which cover treatment of their medical conditions, or receive special education services instead of 504 plans.
Administrators also said students, such as those who have a broken arm during standardized testing, can receive a temporary 504 accommodation.
A 504 plan might give a child with limited mobility an extra set of books to keep at home, or a visually impaired pupil might get specially lined paper or large-print books, Ms. Harkrider said.
A student support team determines whether a child is eligible for a 504 plan. The team could include parents, teachers, administrators, a school nurse and 504 plan coordinators.
Beverly Canell, of Evans, has a 504 plan for her son, Nick, 15, who is a sophomore at Lakeside High School. Her son, Tony, a 2007 Lakeside graduate, also had a 504 plan. Both of her sons have Duchenne muscular dystrophy, which is characterized by a progressive loss of muscle function.
Their 504 plans gave them extra time to complete tests or assignments and accommodations during standardized testing.
Her sons put a line or dot in the bubble to indicate the answer they select on a test, Ms. Canell said, but a teacher or administrator finishes filling in the bubble for them.
"It doesn't seem like a whole lot, but it makes their life easier." Ms. Canell said.
Reach Betsy Gilliland at (706) 868-1222, ext. 113, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHAT IS IT: The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, referred to as "Section 504," is a nondiscrimination statute enacted by Congress.
PURPOSE: To prohibit discrimination and to ensure that disabled students have the same opportunities as nondisabled students
ELIGIBILITY: A student who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity
Source: Columbia County Board of Education