photo by PhotoTexas

Over the summer, Dripping Springs Independent School District (DSISD) hired Kim Gravell, the school’s first ever 504 coordinator to take over the 504 program at the school. Section 504 works with IDEA and ADA to protect students, children, and adults with disabilities from unequal treatment exclusion in jobs, schools, and the community.

“We hired a 504 coordinator because the number of 504 students keeps increasing, and we felt like we needed a person dedicated to managing the 504 process which includes meetings, a lot of paperwork, and helping students to advocate for themselves,” Head Counselor Retta Ary said.

Along with Gravell, Eri Contreras and Maribel Luyan were hired to coordinate for the two elementaries and a middle school each.

“In the plans that I’ve seen there are things that were put in place when the student was maybe in upper elementary school, so that’s no longer applicable. A part of my job is cleaning that up,” Gravell said.

Due to the sheer size of the 504 program at the high school, many students were not getting the help they needed, and the teachers were having trouble understanding clunky and outdated information on their student’s 504 plans.

“I think there’s going to be some consistency, which is needed. This district is so large now that we need some consistency vertically, going elementary, to middle, to high school,” Gravell said.

While elementary and middle schools may have a dyslexia teacher or some other sort of disability helper, the high school only has a special education program.

“I think that the benefit of having this position and what I will bring to the high school next year is consistent with the program: paperwork is up-to-date, and instructional accommodations for students are age appropriate and helpful for them,” Gravell said.

Before DSISD hired the three coordinators, the 15 counselors were handling the 504 program.

“Any time you have one person who handles everything, everything is done the same way,” Ary explained. “If you have five different people who are doing something, everyone has their own little spin on things, and it can be different.”

504 plans are designed to level the playing field, but not give anyone a greater advantage either.

“[504 students] don’t need changes in the curriculum or anything like that; they just need help in managing assignments or if they’re visually impaired, they might need enlarged print, or if they are hearing impaired, they might need an FM transmitter or some other type of equipment to help them,” Ary said.

“It’s more than just a high school plan,” Gravell said. “It’s more than a public education plan. It’s postsecondary. It goes into the workplace. It’s just applicable in life.”

Written by Cady Russell, Staff Writer