Educating Adolescents in the Context of Section 504 Policy: a Comparative Study of Two Middle Schools
Section 504 "prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities by school districts receiving federal financial assistance" (First & Curcio, 1993, p.33). In public schools, eligible students receive an Individualized Accommodation Plan (IAP), guaranteeing a free appropriate public education (FAPE) and equitable access to educational opportunities (Bateman, 1996). Interest in Section 504 has grown among school personnel, especially in the use of this mandate for students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Additionally, the number of students with IAPs has increased nationally, in Virginia, and in the school district studied (Elementary and Secondary Schools Compliance Reports, 1994 & 1997). It has been hypothesized that these increases are attributable to ADHD. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to explore who these adolescents are and how they are served under Section 504 policy in two middle schools in southeastern Virginia. A comparative case study design was used to explore Section 504 policy implementation through within and cross-case comparisons of data from documents and interviews with administrators and teachers about the number and content of IAPs, and decision-making pertaining to the Section 504 process. Grounded theory was used to generate propositions relative to how demographic profiles and IAP content are affected by the implementation process. Results identified relevant themes and factors as awareness of procedures, time, costs, and school profiles. The findings of this study are intended to raise stakeholder awareness about Section 504 decision-making practices and their influence on services for students, and to inform Section 504 staff developers of training needs.