When you have a child with a disability who does not qualify for special education but could benefit from a few accommodations in school, a 504 plan may be able to help. Part of a civil rights law, a 504 plan is developed at the school level to customize a student's learning environment to meet their specific needs.
The Basics of a 504 Plan
The 504 plan refers to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act. This specifies that no one with a disability can be excluded from participating in federally funded programs or activities, including elementary, secondary, or post-secondary schooling.
The goal of a 504 plan is to remove barriers and allow students with disabilities to participate freely in public education or schools that receive public funding. It seeks to level the playing field so those students can safely pursue the same opportunities as everyone else.
Section 504 states, "No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States...shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.
Section 504 mandates that public schools districts offer a "free appropriate public education" (FAPE) to eligible students with disabilities in their constituencies. It does not matter how severe the disability is or what its nature is.
The accommodations are designed so a student can learn in a classroom environment and participate in school just as they would if they didn't have a disability. These are specific to each student and each 504 plan will be uniquely suited to their needs.
504 Plan vs Individualized Education Plan
There is some confusion regarding the similarities between a 504 plan and an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). While both are intended to help children with disabilities learn with adaptations to their needs, they take a different approach.
A 504 plan is intended for children with a wide range of disabilities who are, nevertheless, able to participate and succeed in a general education classroom. An IEP, on the other hand, is intended for children with a specific set of diagnoses who require special education services.
A 504 plan may include just one or two accommodations (a peanut-free environment, for example) that the school agrees to provide. An IEP is a legal document which includes objectives, goals, accommodations, and a description of an agreed-upon educational setting.
Children who benefit from a 504 plan are those who are able to learn at a typical level if they are provided appropriate accommodations. Thus, a child with intellectual disabilities will almost certainly need an IEP while a child with diabetes or asthma might require a 504.
- has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity;
- has a record of such an impairment;
- is regarded as having such an impairment."
Eligibility for a 504 plan does not define specific medical conditions. Instead, it is intentionally left as a broad statement of possible physical and mental impairments so that each school can determine eligibility on the basis of an individual case.
"Major life activities" include a variety of functions required in daily life, from seeing or hearing to concentrating, communicating, and learning. The Department of Education also includes "major bodily functions" in the life activities, so children with respiratory, bowel or bladder, immune, and other physical conditions can be protected under the law.
A 504 plan spells out the modifications and accommodations that will be needed for these students to have an opportunity to perform at the same level as their peers. These may include such things as wheelchair ramps, blood sugar monitoring, an extra set of textbooks, home instruction, or a tape recorder or keyboard for taking notes.
Establishing a 504 Plan
Sometimes the 504 plan is proposed by the school for a child that they see could use a little extra help. Parents can also request a 504 plan if they see a need or if a diagnosis or life event occurs that may impact their child's learning abilities.
School districts will often have a coordinator who handles both IEP and 504 plans. It's also common for a team to be established to develop the plan. This may include the student's teacher, principal, or counselor, and parents are often encouraged to take part in the meetings.
There is no requirement that a 504 plan be written and what is typically provided varies by school district. The vast majority of schools do write up the plans as a protection for themselves as well as the student to ensure everyone is on the same page. As a parent, it's a good idea to be sure your school provides a written and signed 504.
The actual format of the 504 will depend upon your school. If they do not have one, you can download or create your own form.
Within the 504 plan, you and the school will list specific accommodations or requirements that will make it possible for your child to succeed in a general education program. Unlike an IEP, a 504 will not include academic goals, benchmarks, or measurements.
Accommodations may include such items as:
- Placing a child at the front of the classroom
- Requiring teachers and aides to receive training in your child's particular disability (e.g., CPR training, a video about ADHD, etc.)
- Providing a child with extra time or a quiet space for taking a test or doing homework
- Providing a tutor after school to help with assignments
- Providing a child with technology to support particular needs (e.g., voice to text technology, text-to-speech aides, etc.)
- Providing a child with an allergen-free environment
A Word From Verywell
A 504 plan can be a good tool that helps your child receive the instruction he needs inside the classroom. It can make a significant difference in his learning experience while letting him enjoy time with his classmates. If you think your child may benefit from a few accommodations, ask about it at your school.
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