Critics say that while 504 plans are useful for students with disabilities, more affluent parents may take advantage of the accommodations the plan offers to give their child an edge. On the other hand, parents at poorer schools may not be aware that their children can get legally mandated help for legitimate learning disabilities.
Kerry Barlow, who teaches emotionally distubred students at Rio and is familiar with special education law, thinks too many parents abuse the system.
“504s are grotesquely overprescribed in upper class schools and it’s just as bad that they are underprescribed at less fortunate schools,” said Barlow. “But if a student has good teachers then a 504 really isn’t that needed because they take care of all of those issues.”
As more students get 504s, the plans may become less useful in classrooms because that reduces what teachers can do for individual students, Barlow said. For example, only so many students can be given preferential seating in the front row.
But 504s may allow a student to get extra time on class exams and the SAT and ACT, which could boost their chance of getting into a top college.
According to a 2005 study by researchers at the University of Massachusetts, Amerherst, “extended time tended to improve the performance of all students, although students with disabilities tended exhibit relatively greater score gains.”
Students with 504s who were interviewed by the Mirada said the extra time helps offset disabilities, while critics say children with affluent parents are seeking an advantage.
“504s also give students extra time on tests and that becomes a crucial element in the SAT and for some families that may be what this is all about,” said Barlow.