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What is a 504 Plan?

Ken is sitting with his parents at a round table in the counselor’s office. There are several adults: the principal, a counselor, a special education teacher, and Ken’s math teacher. They all start talking about Ken and his school progress. Soon the counselor talks about Ken’s strengths and where Ken is falling behind. Surprisingly, the counselor says that Ken can’t concentrate, and his learning is falling behind his classmates. That is news to Ken and his parents! Ken’s parents thought that he was just a “little slow” doing his homework and that he would “catch up” soon. After all, it is just a phase he is going through. 

Well, maybe not. The special education teacher is talking about Ken’s test score and using the term “504.” Ken’s parents are puzzled and wonder, what is a 504? What does a 504 mean? Is this some kind of mysterious code? What is going to happen to my child? Are you telling me Ken is not normal? What is this all about?

What is a 504 Plan?

Students with physical or mental disabilities face huge academic, social, and relationship problems for a variety of reasons. But there is help for these students who can lead productive, normal, lives.

Section 504 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act of 1973 provides help for students with physical or mental impairments in public schools (or publicly funded private schools). These 504 Plans legally ensure that these students will be treated fairly at school and receive the help they need.

Common examples of disabilities that fall under the Section 504:

  • Children with a normal ability to learn academically, but who have a mobility impairment
  • Children with moderate ability to learn academically, but who have a medical condition such as epilepsy, hemophilia, diabetes, AIDS, arthritis, allergies, asthma, ADHD
  • A child who has frequent referrals for behavioral problems or is under a doctor’s care for psychological condition such as anxiety or depression

504 Basics

Students who qualify for 504 plans have physical or mental impairments that affect or limit any of their abilities to:

  • Walk, breathe, eat, or sleep
  • Communicate, see, hear, or speak
  • Read concentrate, think, or learn
  • Stand, bend, lift, or work

504 Accommodations include:

  • Preferential seating
  • Extended time on tests and assignments
  • Reduced homework or classwork
  • Verbal, visual, or technology aids
  • Modified textbooks or audio-video materials
  • Behavior management support
  • Adjusted class schedules or grading
  • Verbal testing, absences, or missed classwork
  • Frequent nurse’s office visits and having accompaniment on visits
  • Occupational or physical therapy

The long-term goal of the 504 plan is for students to be educated in the regular classroom along with specific services and accommodations that they will need to succeed.

What is the difference between a 504 plan and an IEP plan?

A 504 plan is different from an Individualized Education Program (IEP).  The primary difference is that a 504 plan modifies a student’s regular education program in a traditional school setting. A student with an IEP, as part of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004), receives different educational services in a special or regular educational setting depending on the student’s needs. Usually, IEP programs are delivered and monitored by additional school support staff.

Additionally, parental approval and involvement are mandatory for an IEP, but not for a 504 plan. Full parental participation in the 504 processes is highly recommended to help reinforce SEL skills.

Evaluation and Referral

A 504 plan may be implemented when a student is not benefiting from instruction due to a physical or mental impairment. The 504 processes are started by a parent (or legal guardian), teacher, physician or therapist.

Typically, 504 plans are used when a student returns from a severe illness, accident, or when a student is not eligible for special education services. Once the educational concern appears, the principal or other academic advisor sets up a 504 meeting.  The team members usually consist of parents, the principal, a counselor, and classroom teachers. Although other staff may be included.

During this meeting, academic and medical data will be reviewed to determine if a 504 plan is needed.  Sometimes disagreements occur in the eligibility of the student or in the details of the 504 plan. It is important to understand parents have the right to appeal with a written statement to the school district or U. S. Office of Civil Rights.

Once the plan is developed by the team, all the student’s teachers are responsible for implementing the accommodations in the plan in every content area.

The 504 plan is reviewed annually (or more frequently) to determine the appropriate accommodations and making sure that the student’s needs are met. In any 504 plans, any team member, including the parents, can call for a 504 plan review if there is an educational concern in the student’s needs.

Termination of the 504 Plan can happen if the team decides that the student:

  • Is no longer disabled
  • No longer requires any special accommodations or services
  • Can be appropriately instructed in general education

After Ken’s team has discussed what is going on with him in school, Ken’s parents are relieved. Yes, Ken is average (and will transition successfully) and will have a normal life, but for now he needs a little help in succeeding. That is where the 504 plan comes in. Great news for Ken and his parents!

Written by PJ Larsen, Ed. D., Veteran classroom teacher, college professor, and adventure traveler.

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