It has come to my attention recently that there appears to be misunderstanding or misinformation among Tupelo Public Schools’ patrons concerning the district’s position on the writing of 504 plans.
Section 504 is part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, prohibiting discrimination against individuals with disabilities, and it is simply not accurate for one to say that “the TPSD does not like to write 504 plans.”
What is correct, however, is that the district has a board policy in place that requires the district to confirm that a student does not qualify for special education services before a 504 committee should be convened.
This TPSD board policy is based on law, and it has been fully reviewed by appropriate legal counsel specializing in educational law. Further, it is the opinion of legal counsel that our school district’s current policy is in full compliance with all pertinent and relevant state and national laws and standards.
Unlike the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Section 504 does not require a school to provide an individualized education program (IEP) designed to meet the student’s unique needs or to provide the student with additional educational benefits. The Mississippi Department of Education has equipped local school districts with the ability to assist students through general education as part of a process referred to as Response to Intervention. The state mandates an educational model that provides support through a series of “tiered instruction.”
All students are considered Tier I students. For those students who exhibit academic difficulty, Tier II interventions provide supplemental support. For students who have more intensive needs, Tier III interventions are designed specifically with the individual student in mind. Presently, the Tupelo Public School District has instituted a variety of helpful instructional programs to meet the unique needs of these students. Instructional interventionists, classroom teachers, and additional staff stand ready to assist in this endeavor. Moreover, TPSD students who are receiving Tier II and/or Tier III interventions now have a well-thought-out, written plan for instruction and accommodations that can follow the child from classroom to classroom and into additional academic school years, if necessary. Progress is closely monitored for effectiveness and, when necessary, adjustments in programming are made. In fact, Tier II and Tier III accommodations and interventions often can provide more support for the student than a 504 plan is able to provide.
The Tupelo Public School District seeks to clearly explain our district’s policies and procedures to our parents and patrons in a manner that is understandable. Whenever there is any confusion or misunderstanding about Section 504, tiered interventions, or the determination of a disability, questions should first be directed to the child’s school principal. Each school principal in the TPSD has copies of all current district policies, and it will soon be possible to download these policies directly from the TPSD web site.
The Tupelo Public School District recognizes the role that is shared by all administrators, teachers, and staff members to fully support our students and parents. Please know that our schools are committed to working hard and to “doing the right things for all children.” In keeping with this commitment, we also are fully aware of the importance and necessity of eliminating misunderstanding and misleading information in our communications with our community, parents, and patrons.
Randy McCoy is superintendent of the Tupelo Public Schools. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.