504 Plans: What are they and does your child need one?

As your child starts school, they may need a 504 plan or be placed on a 504 plan.  If you aren’t quite sure what a 504 plan is, below we discuss what 504 plans are, what they do, and how to get a 504 plan for your child.  

 

What is Section 504?

504 plans apply to people with disabilities who participate in federally funded programs or activities (such as going to a public school).  504 plans were created by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which is a law that was meant to eliminate discrimination based on disability.  In particular, that it seeks to remove barriers to learning for children with disabilities.  504 plans are named for the section of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (section 504) that describes the rights granted to individuals with disabilities.

What is a 504 plan?

A 504 plan is a document that outlines how schools will accommodate a child with a disability.  While all 504 plans must include some common elements (specific accommodations, oversight, etc…), each school district is free to develop its own approach to 504 plans.  Generally, 504 plans should include: 

  1. A description of how a school will accommodate a child’s disability
  2. The names of the people who will provide the accommodations
  3. The name of the person over-seeing the plan (the person who will make sure the plan is followed).     

Notably, schools have the authority to enact a 504 plan for a child without involving the child’s parents.  Parents do have the right to receive notice that their child has been evaluated and placed on a 504 plan, as well as the right to examine their child’s records.  Most schools do try to involve parents in a child’s 504 plan and will meet with parents to review 504 plans, although those are not requirements.  

 

Who should have a 504 plan?

504 plans are for children who have a disability that interferes with their ability to learn in a general education classroom but do not require special education.  A child is eligible for a 504 plan if they have a disability, have a record of having a disability, or are regarded as having a disability.  

Impaired performance in a general education classroom may mean that a child has difficulty completing tasks because of a physical limitation (such as difficulty with fine motor skills), an emotional disturbance (such as high anxiety), a sensory processing disorder (such as an auditory processing disorder), or an attention disorder (such as attention deficit / hyperactivity disorder; ADHD).  Notably, a child may do well academically, but have difficulty with some other aspect of learning in a general education classroom.  For example: a child with ADHD may get good grades, but take much longer than other children to complete their work.  In any of these cases, the 504 plan would seek to provide accommodation for the child’s disability so that they could participate in a general education classroom with their peers.  

 

What the difference between an IEP and a 504 plan?

Both 504 plans and IEPs seek to help children with disabilities get an education, but they do have a few differences.  Please see the table below to learn about the major differences between a 504 plan and an IEP:

 

504 Plan IEP
Law Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
Definition of disability Broad – an impairment that interferes with learning in a general education classroom. Specific – one of 13 disabilities listed in IDEA
Type of education provided General education with accommodation (no special instruction) General education when possible (with accommodation), special education where necessary
How are they initiated? Caregiver requests evaluation by the school or school officials initiate evaluation.  If indicated, the child is placed on a 504 plan. Caregivers request an evaluation from the school or have an evaluation done privately.  If indicated, parents and educators arrange an IEP eligibility meeting.

 

What are some services and accommodations that your child may be eligible for?

Services that may be provided under a 504 plan may include:

  • Occupational or physical therapy
  • Speech/language therapy
  • Special transportation
  • Adapted physical therapy
  • Behavior management support
  • Assistive technology devices
  • Social/interpersonal skills support
  • ADA access (such as an elevator key)
  • Nurse support
  • More services may be necessary depending on the consensus of the Section 504 Committee 

Accommodations that may be provided under a 504 plan may include:

  • Preferential seating in the classroom
  • Extended time on tests and assignments
  • Reduced homework or classwork
  • Verbal, visual, or technology aids
  • Modified textbooks or audio-visual materials
  • Adjusted class schedule
  • Audio/verbal testing
  • Excused lateness, absence, or missed classwork
  • Pre-approved nurse’s office visits
  • Memory aids (such as graphic organizers)

 

How do you start the process of getting your child covered under Section 504?

  1. Start by contacting your child’s 504 coordinator or school administrator to notify them of your child’s disability. 
  2. Follow up by sending them a written request asking for an evaluation of your child to determine if their disability has a significant impact on their learning or behavior. 
  3. Schedule a meeting with the school’s 504 coordinator to discuss what accommodations are necessary for your child. Your 504 coordinator will assist you in contacting the appropriate team members who need to be knowledgeable of these accommodations to ensure that the 504 plan is appropriately implemented.

 

What should you do if your child is not being offered the appropriate accommodations?

There are several steps that you can take if you think your child’s 504 plan is not adequate or does not include the appropriate accommodations to allow for their full participation. 

You are able to challenge any aspect of the 504 plan process including whether or not your child needs to be evaluated, the outcome of the evaluation, the accommodations offer to your child, and any action/inaction towards your child’s 504 plan (including if there is a service missing from their plan).

 

To challenge a part of the 504 plan, you can:

  • Negotiate with the 504 coordinator and schedule a meeting about your child’s needs.

 

  • Request an impartial hearing from your school’s 504 coordinator.  To request a hearing, you should send an email or letter to the 504 coordinator that includes: 1) your child’s name and address, 2) the name of the school, 3) what you disagree with, 4) why you are requesting the hearing, 5) what you would like to do, and 6) your name and contraction information.  Once you have contacted the 504 coordinator:

 

  • The 504 coordinator is required to respond in writing within 10 days to schedule a hearing – hearings must be scheduled within 45 days of your request. The hearing will provide you and the school district an opportunity to present evidence and a testimony to an impartial review officer. The decision will be disclosed within 20 days.

 

  • Instead of a hearing, the school system may offer a consultation with a third-party neutral mediator.  However, you do not have to agree to the mediator or their solution. 

 

  • If you are not satisfied with the result of the hearing either, you may appeal the decision, and it is recommended that you speak with a lawyer about what options you have. 

 

  • You also have the option to file a civil rights complaint with the Office of Civil Rights for the U.S. Department of Education if you do not believe the school is following the law or if they have discriminated against your child because of their disability.  Please note:
    • This option is for over-arching concerns about how the school’s approach to children with disabilities.  It is not for disagreements over specific accommodations or services.) 
    • You must file your complaint within 180 days of the Section 504 violation.  If you decide to ask for an impartial hearing and file a civil rights complaint, you must file within 60 days of the decision at the hearing. 

 

  • To file a complaint online, follow this link and scroll down to find the gray bar that says “Filing a complaint.”

 

To help understand how a 504 plan is organized, Here is an example of a blank plan. 

 

Resources

https://www.choa.org/-/media/Files/Childrens/patients/school-program/iep-504-resource-page.pdf?la=en&hash=BF719764C11B474F8659306C061E00FD938CE5D0#:~:text=An%20IEP%20is%20a%20plan,access%20to%20learning%20at%20school

https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/complaintform.pdf 

https://www.gadoe.org/Curriculum-Instruction-and-Assessment/Student-Support-Teams/Documents/Model%20-%20Section%20504%20Plan_Fillable%20Form.pdf#search=504%20plan

https://www.georgialegalaid.org/resource/what-should-i-know-about-504-plans-in-georgia

https://www.p2pga.org/roadmap/education/special-education-law/what-is-section-504/#:~:text=Section%20504%20ensures%20that%20a,to%20the%20child’s%20individual%20needs.