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Doing Your Homework:
Can the School Retain an Honor Student Because of Health Needs?

by Sue Whitney, Research Editor, Wrightslaw

Young girl outsideMy 10 year old daughter, diagnosed with lifelong Juvenile Laryngeal Papillomatosis, has undergone multiple surgeries but shows excellent progress.

She is an Honor Roll student - intelligent, creative, polite, social, artistic, and possessing great leadership potential.

The school will not promote her to fifth grade because she was absent more than 14 days even though 11 were medical related.

The school makes no distinction between excused or unexcused absences, medical reasons or otherwise, when counting the days absent towards the magic number of 14.

Would my daughter's situation be something covered under section 504? 

Sue's Response

Learn the Difference Between Section 504 and IDEA 2004

  • A 504 plan accommodates a condition.
  • An Individualized Education Program (IEP) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004) provides specialized instruction, such as tutors for times when the student cannot attend school due to a disabling medical condition.

Your daughter has a disabling condition that affects a major life activity – breathing, for starters, and her immune system. Read more about Section 504.

She needs specialized instruction – she cannot always attend school when school is scheduled. Read more about IDEA 2004.

The need for specialized instruction would mean an Individualized Education Program (IEP) with the probable identification of Other Health Impaired (OHI). An IEP would put her under the protection of IDEA 2004.

Document Your Daughter's Health Condition

The evaluation and documentation of her health condition would come from your daughter's physicians.

Ask the treating physician to write a letter describing her condition in layman's terms. The letter should explain that she is not always able to attend school because of this condition, the treatment of this condition, or the complications of this condition.

If the school finds your daughter eligible for special education under IDEA, the IEP team has more flexibility to design an individualized plan to ensure that she is getting all the instruction offered in the subjects/classes she missed or will miss.

Options the team may decide on:

  • the regularly offered summer school
  • tutors
  • grading your daughter for the work she has already completed. 

Tip: Be careful. You want to be sure she gets all the instruction the other students have had, not just a passing grade on completed work.

You do not know what the future will bring. Even if the outcome is the same this year, you should still have a plan for future illnesses or complications in place. You are a member of any team under IDEA that makes decisions about your daughter's education.

Hopefully, your daughter will not miss much school in the future. This may be an IEP that would never be implemented, but it would be there if she needs it.

Request an Eligibility Meeting

Requesting an eligibility meeting under IDEA in writing. Eligibility offers your daughter some protections in the future, get a system in place, and prevent retention based upon her health needs.

Write a letter asking for an eligibility meeting (under IDEA 2004).

Use this letter template to request an eligibility meeting for special education services and specialized instruction.

Write your letter in a standard business letter format.

Re: ______________ (daughter's name)

Dear ______________ (principal):

On __________________(date), Dr. _________________ diagnosed my daughter ________________ with __________________________.

______________ has had multiple medical appointments and surgeries related to this condition. These medical appointments have disrupted ____________'s school attendance during this school year. We are extremely concerned about her health as well as her education.

I am requesting an eligibility meeting to discuss ______________'s diagnosis and educational needs. I would like to hold this meeting as soon as possible.  I realize that this is a very busy time of year for all of the staff at the school. I appreciate your anticipated cooperation and assistance in helping us help ______________ during this significant time of stress and concern.

I am available Monday - Wednesday after 2:00 p.m. Please feel free to call me either at my home, ______________ or my cell phone,_______________ to confirm a date. I look forward to meeting with you.



Read this information about writing letters.

Consult an Advocate or Attorney

Since you are new to this, I suggest you consult with an advocate or attorney so that you do not waste time or get off track without realizing it.

You are likely to be the only person at the table who does not know the rules of the game.

Yellow Pages for Kids Legal and Advocacy Resources

Attorneys and Advocates

Contact Other Resources

Establish a contact with other agencies that may be able to walk you through the system as problems arise, hopefully, before problems arise.

Your State Department of Education

The Disability Rights Center

Provide Documentation to the School

Good records are important for effective advocacy. Provide the school with a copy of your doctor's letter. This is the absolute minimum you should do.

Get Documentation from Your Physician

No matter which direction you go, you need to ensure the school has the letter from the treating physician describing your daughter's condition and how it impacts her school performance.

Provide the Principal with a Copy of This Documentation

Review the Model for a 504 Plan
If you decide to request a 504, use a sample plan as a model and change the wording to match your daughter's diagnosis and needs. You can copy the Word version of the plan into your computer and change it there.

Work out the 504 plan and health plan yourself. Have your daughter's physician approve and sign the medical plan.

Take a copy to both the nurse and the principal. They will probably meet after that but you will have all your documentation in place.

Meet Sue Whitney

Sue Whitney of Manchester, New Hampshire, works with families as a special education advocate and is the research editor for Wrightslaw.

Doing Your Homework, Suzanne Whitney gives savvy advice about reading, research based instruction, and creative strategies for using education standards to advocate for children and to improve public schools.

Her articles have been reprinted by,,, The Beacon: Journal of Special Education Law and Practice, the Schafer Autism Report, and have been used in CLE presentations to attorneys.

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

She also served on New Hampshire's Special Education State Advisory Committee on the Education of Students/Children with Disabilities (SAC).

Sue Whitney's bio.

Copyright © 2002-2022 by Suzanne Whitney.

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