I was surprised when I found out that the man listed in the school’s “504 Manual” as the “504 Coordinator” had died three years earlier.  I felt that the superintendent should know about this. So I went to her office and asked: “Did you know you’ve got a dead man for a 504 coordinator?”

“Yes,” she coolly replied.  “It’s part of our strategic plan. If the parents get angry and call, we’ll just say, ‘Sorry.  He can’t come to the phone.’”

I pointed out that such a “strategy” would not work for very long. She let me know that she would not be in the district much longer.

Part of this story is true, and I’ll let you figure out which part.  But the episode got me to thinking about what we need in a 504 coordinator.

The responsibilities of the 504 coordinator have grown over the past few years.  In 2009, Congress expanded the definition of who is to be served under Section 504.  That change in the law, combined with an increase in public awareness of Section 504 has led to many more referrals.

So the 504 coordinator needs a lot of training to keep up with the law.

On top of that, the coordinator needs to have a good sense of the importance of process.  Section 504 is as much concerned with process as it is with results.  The Office for Civil Rights, which enforces 504, promises not to overturn a decision made by a local school district, even if they disagree with it, as long as they see that you followed the right process.

The coordinator also needs to have some authority within the district to make sure that 504 plans are implemented. 504 teams are much like ARD Committees. Once they determine what the student needs, the district is required to see to it that the student gets what he/she needs. So if a teacher is not taking a 504 plan seriously, the 504 coordinator needs to have some authority to take action.

So you need a pretty sharp cookie to serve as 504 coordinator. And first and foremost, one who can still fog a mirror.