The first level of support available in schools is available to all students without any special plan or documentation.
For example, most elementary schools offer small reading support groups. These are small groups available to students for whom learning to read does not come as easily as most. Another resource available at all grade levels is the support of school mental health staff.
The social workers, counselors and school psychologists in buildings can meet individually with students in times of crisis, can play a supportive role for students with a variety of family and individual struggles over the long term, and sometimes even run various types of groups that students can be a part of.
These men and women are also great resources for parents who have questions like "Is this normal?" or need help getting connected with community support services.
It is important to remember, however, that school mental health staff do not provide psychotherapy and should not be viewed as a free and convenient replacement for working with a therapist in the community.
The second level of support available to students in both public and private schools and universities are health and 504 plans.
504 plans get their name from the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Section 504 expressly mandates that public schools make accommodations to ensure that students with disabilities are able to receive the same learning experience as their peers. These plans are therefore intended for students with a wide variety of previously identified or sometimes even SUSPECTED disabilities.
It could be anything from an ADHD diagnosis requiring preferential seating in the classroom and frequent movement breaks to a student with mild autism who needs to be allowed to wear noise cancelling headphones in loud environments.
At the elementary level the school psychologist or social worker is typically responsible for writing and managing 504 plans while at the middle and high school levels it is the school counselors who typically take care of these.
Health plans, alternately, are typically managed by the school nurse and are specific to the needs of students with a chronic physical health issue such as asthma, diabetes, a severe allergy or a temporary disability requiring some type of accommodation.
It is important to understand that neither a 504 plan nor a health plan typically involves services being provided to the student. Rather, the focus of these plans is typically on making reasonable accommodations for the unique needs of students with various conditions or needs.
Join us next week for a deeper look at more services!