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The Most Important Hour of the School Year

When we arrived for our son’s annual 504 meeting, the school counselor mentioned that many caregivers never respond to her email invitation. How they could ignore it, I’m not sure because this is undeniably the most important hour we spend at our son’s school all year.

I’m sitting in the school’s front office, trying to remember why I’m here. I know it’s a meeting for one of my kids, but I don’t know which kid or what type of meeting. Is this a parent-teacher conference? I think. No, wait, I got an email about this from the school counselor. Between April and May, I’ve attended countless meetings and conferences for my four children. At this point, I can’t keep them all straight.

Then Laurie shows up and tells the office manager we’re here for the 504 meeting. She sits down next to me.

“Remind me what that is,” I whisper to her.

“It’s accommodations for speech and ADHD.”

“Right,” I say. “Should I be nervous?”

“I’m not,” she says. “I much prefer the 504 meetings to the parent/teacher conferences. If a teacher doesn’t like our kid, the parent/teacher conference turns into a venting session about how difficult our kid is. But at the 504, the counselor and an administrator are also there. So if the teacher starts going off, I have witnesses when I push back and call the teacher out on it.”

[Free Download: Bring This Form to Your Parent-Teacher Meetings]

“You’ve done that?!” I ask.

“Yes, remember when we had that one teacher…”

That’s when we’re interrupted by the guidance counselor, who greets us and leads us to a conference room where our son’s homeroom teacher and the assistant principal are already seated. The assistant principal is working on a laptop which is projected on a large screen. On the screen is a form with my son’s name at the top.

We make small talk for a few minutes about the weather and an upcoming holiday. Then the assistant principal says, “Should we begin?” She has us all go around and introduce ourselves, then officially calls the meeting to order.

We start by reviewing our student’s schedule, and discussing each class:

  • How did he perform in this subject?
  • How did he interact with the teacher?
  • How did he interact with his peers?

As the meeting progresses, we discuss more general issues like test taking, current and past medications prescribed by neurologists and their effects on his mood and school performance, and what we could be doing at home to drive his reading level, as well as math apps and games for the school-issued iPad.

[Free Resource: 40 Winning Accommodations for Students with ADHD]

Overall, the meeting lasts about an hour. I am thrilled at how thoroughly we discuss our child’s progress and academic development. We celebrate what’s working, and develop a game plan for addressing struggles. The assistant principal pats Laurie and me on the back for both showing up to the meeting. The counselor adds, “Sometimes parents don’t respond to the meeting invites. It shows you’re invested in your child’s success.”

Laurie says, “Thanks! I’m so glad for this process. It wasn’t easy getting him these accommodations. We had to fight hard for the diagnoses, and the application process was a lot of paperwork, but it was clearly worth the hard work.”

As we’re leaving the meeting, I say to Laurie, “That went well.”

“Yes it did,” she says. “I hope the next two go this well.”

“We have two more of these meetings?!”

“Yes, dear… we have two other kids who get accommodations, and we have to go do their meetings, too!”

I am honestly, truly excited by the notion that three of our kids will have a game plan for home and school that has been designed by a panel of teachers, school administrators, and Laurie and me. And yet I groan at the thought of two more of these long, drawn-out meetings. Is it any wonder I show up unsure of why I’m there, but convinced it must be important? Because it usually is.

[12 Tips for a Successful IEP Meeting]