What is a 504 plan? What teachers and parents need to know

Has your child’s school recommended an assessment for a 504 plan? Are you a teacher whose school counselor is recommending a student? You probably have questions, such as what is a 504 plan? How can it help students? How do we set up one? We have the answers and resources you need here.

What is a 504 plan?

Circle chart showing the relationship of 504 plans with students in a district

Photo: Wejata Public School

504 schemes are named after section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 1973 This important civil rights law prohibits discrimination due to disability Section 504 of the Act states that no person shall be deprived of participation in a program or activity that receives federal funding based on disability. Public schools, of course, receive federal funding, so they are bound by this law.

This means that every child is entitled to free, appropriate public education (FAPE). Section 504 states that schools must assess students who may be disabled, regardless of parent or family value. Based on the results of that assessment, a student may be eligible for accommodation that helps them succeed in school. A 504 plan gives those dwellings

It is important to note that this law also states that people do not have the right to a place of residence that “fundamentally changes” an activity. So when a 504 plan may change How As a student learns, this usually does not change What A student learns.

Learn more about Section 504 here.

How does a 504 plan differ from an IEP?

A chart showing the differences and similarities between an IEP and a 504 plan

A standalone education plan (IEP) is another tool that helps schools ensure free appropriate public education for students. IEPs are covered by a different law, however, known as the Individual Disability Education Act (IDEA). And although they have the same basic goals as a 504 plan, these two documents are very different in many ways.

To qualify for an IEP, a student must have one of the 13 specific disabilities listed in the law. There are very strict rules about who participates in creating and managing an IEP, how they are written, and how often they are reviewed. States and schools receive additional funding to help students meet their special needs, including IEPs.

The 504 plan has fewer restrictions and requirements, but they also offer less protection. Schools do not receive any additional federal funding to help accommodate these students, but they may be penalized if they do not help children in need of 504.

Learn more about the differences between IEPs and 504 plans here.

Who qualifies for a 504 plan?

List of major life activities that may be covered under a 504 plan

Schools cannot decide who is eligible for the IEP, but they can determine who will benefit from the 504. Section 504 contains a much broader definition of disability than IDEA. It refers to any student as “a physical or mental disability that significantly limits the activities of one or more major life.” This includes children who have difficulty concentrating, thinking, communicating and learning, even if they do not have a diagnosis of a specific IDEA disability.

Learn more about the eligibility for the 504 plan here.

What is the process for setting up a 504 plan?

Tips on how to get your child a 504 plan

Photo: She is awesome

There is no legally binding formal process to set up 504. States and school districts may have their own rules. Usually, though, it happens like this:

  • A family or teacher suggests that a student may benefit from a 504 plan.
  • The student goes through an assessment process, which may vary for different states and schools. Schools have a 504 coordinator who oversees the process. Typically, this assessment includes a look at the child’s school records and medical records. They also usually include observations and interviews with children, families and teachers. There may also be other tests or requirements.
  • Schools and families usually work together to create a 504 plan. But the school does not have to give parents consent to move forward with the plan. Parents need to be notified of any “significant changes” in the placement of schools. (Parents have the right to debate school decisions.)

If you are a parent who believes their child will benefit from a 504, contact the school (especially in writing) to begin the process. Teachers should talk to their administrator or school counselor about students who may benefit.

Learn more about the 504 planning process here.

What does a 504 plan include?

Example of a 504 plan from a school district

Photo: Department of Defense Education Activities

There are no formal requirements for a 504 plan, and they look different for each child. In fact, schools don’t even need to keep a written record, although they do.

They often include:

  • Specific education accommodation or support services
  • The names of those who will provide accommodation or services
  • Details about when and how those accommodations will be provided

504 accommodation will be different for each student and often involves some creative thinking from the school and teachers. Here are some examples:

  • Josh is a fifth grader who has trouble paying attention when there is noise in the classroom. Her 504 lets her wear noise-canceling headphones while she works independently.
  • Olivia is a high school student who has difficulty reading. She has been allowed to use audiobooks in her literature classes instead of reading paper texts.
  • Kim has serious test concerns, which affect her grades. Her teacher gave her extra time to finish the test and sometimes gave her an oral test instead.

There are so many possible accommodations, it’s impossible to list them here. The ultimate goal is to create a plan that helps children level the playing field with challenges.

Learn more about potential 504 accommodation in this PDF guide.

Where can I learn more about the 504 Plan?

Try these resources for parents, teachers and schools.

Still have questions about using a 504 plan? Drop through the WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook for advice.

Also, find all of our specialized education resources here.

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