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Doing Your Homework:
Child Dismissed from Team, Parent Wants to File a Complaint

by Sue Whitney, Research Editor, Wrightslaw

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My child has chronic medical problems. Although he wants to attend school, he is often absent for medical treatments. A few days ago, he was dismissed as manager of a sports team.

He is devastated. This was one of the few ways he can socialize with other students. I am angry. I want to file a complaint. How should I handle this?

Although he has a 504 plan, we have had ongoing problems about grades and completing work. I was told that parents are not involved in designing 504 Plans. Since I have firsthand information about his medical problems and needs, I think it is my responsibility to provide the school with information and to have a say in what they provide.

I reported problems with his Section 504 plan to the Office for Civil Rights but my complaint was not upheld.

From Sue

You have an immediate problem and an ongoing problem. We need to tackle the immediate problem about his dismissal from the sports team first, then look at the ongoing problem.

Dismissal from the Team

You need to talk to the school principal and tell him/her what you have told me. Something is getting lost in the communications. If the principal will not help, go to the superintendent, and then to the school board.

Make sure you frame your discussions in human terms, not legal ones. The child's has a serious medical problem that requires him to miss some school. This is not a reason to deny him participation in extracurricular activities.

The school is required to accommodate HIM, not accommodate who they would like him to be.

You may be reluctant to tell the whole story when you talk to people. The fact that your child has cancer is a difficult subject that causes most people to react emotionally.

Make sure you say the words that are necessary to communicate the situation, even if it is difficult for you to get them out. You may need to practice with a friend, and bring someone with you for support when you talk to the principal.

Section 504 Plan

Now let's look at the problems with Section 504 Plans - getting an appropriate plan and ensuring that the school implements the plan.

Since you have already gone through the process of complaining and been unsuccessful, you need to go back to square one and put things in place again.

On the site of the American Diabetes Association, you will find a Sample 504 Plan (8 pages) and a Medical Management Plan (5 pages).

Although these plans were designed for a child with diabetes, you can use them as templates for your child's plans. Revise the plans so they reflect your child's conditions.

Medical Management Plan

The Medical Management Plan outlines the student's specific medical needs as determined by his/her health care team. Describe every situation that has come up, or is likely to come up. Make sure you frame the issues in terms of medical need or disability. Ask your son's primary doctor to sign the Medical Management Plan.

Deliver the plan to the school nurse and provide copies to his teachers and the principal. This ensures that school personnel have accurate information about his medical condition and needs.

After you take these steps and provide the school with the Medical Management Plan, it will be up to the school to make their case for a lesser 504 Plan. This will be hard to do after the child's doctor signed off on your plan.

At this point, you will have more facts to use if you decide to file a complaint.

I have questions about the appropriateness of a Section 504 Plan for your child. Since he has cancer and is often absent from school because of medical appointments, it sounds like he has a disability that adversely affects educational performance.

If this is the case, he is a child with a disability under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and is entitled to an Individualized Educational Program (IEP). A child with a disability and an IEP has more rights and protections than a child who has a 504 plan.

Filing a Complaint

Be sure you understand how to file a complaint. If you complain to the school district first, you CAN lose your ability to complain to the Office of Civil Rights. (See Questions and Answers on OCR's Complaint Process) You need to decide who you want to resolve an issue before you bring it up.

Also be sure you know WHAT YOU WANT if the complaint is found in your son's favor. If you don't ask for anything when you file your complaint, you will not get anything when it is resolved.

There is an electronic form that people can use to file an OCR complaint. I would not use this form. If you write a letter, you are in a much better position to make your case. Use the form as checklist to make sure you include all the information that a person reviewing the complaint will want to see.


You have 180 days after an event to file a complaint.

You need to learn how to be an effective advocate for your child.

You need to learn write nice persuasive letters that document what you were told. Read
Letter Writing & Paper Trails.

If you read "Writing a Letter to the Stranger," you will learn how to make requests so the decision-makers who have power want to help.

What is Really Going On?

You also need to look at the situation in terms of common sense. Can you answer these questions?

1. What is setting people off at school?

2. What is really behind making a kid with cancer jump through hoops?

3. What turned this into a power struggle between adults who forgot about the kid?

The solution to your problem is apt to be in the answers to these three questions, rather than the information about 504 plans and complaints.

Good luck,
Sue

Resources: Section 504 Plans

Section 504 Plans & Medical Management Plans

Section 504 & ADA: Articles, Caselaw, Memoranda

Resources: OCR Complaints

Know Your Rights.

How the Office for Civil Rights Handles Complaints

Questions & Answers on OCR's Complaint Process

Electronic Complaint Form


Meet Sue Whitney

Sue Whitney of Merrimack, New Hampshire, is the research editor for Wrightslaw.

Sue is the co-author of Wrightslaw: No Child Left Behind (ISBN: 978-1-892320-12-4) that is published by Harbor House Law Press.

In Doing Your Homework, she writes about reading, research based instruction, No Child Left Behind, and creative strategies for using federal education standards to advocate for children and to improve public schools. Her articles have been reprinted by SchwabLearning.org, EducationNews.org, Bridges4Kids.org, The Beacon: Journal of Special Education Law and Practice, the Schafer Autism Report, and have been used in CLE presentations to attorneys. Sue Whitney's bio.

Sue has served on New Hampshire's Special Education State Advisory Committee on the Education of Students/Children with Disabilities (SAC) and has been a volunteer educational surrogate parent. She currently works with families as a special education advocate.


Copyright © 2002-2014 by Suzanne Whitney.

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