504 Plans for Students With Disabilities

For Children Who Need Accommodations in the Classroom

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A 504 plan is intended for children with disabilities who do not need or qualify for special education but could benefit from accommodations and/or specialized help in school. These plans identify accommodations a child with a disability needs to fully participate in the classroom and sets up ways to help the child succeed. Learn more about 504 plans, how to qualify for one, how to apply, and how it may help your child succeed in school.

What Is a 504 Plan?

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 guarantees certain rights to people with disabilities. Named for this legislation, a 504 plan is a plan developed at the school level to customize a student's learning environment to meet their specific needs.

The Basics of a 504 Plan

Essentially, the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) ban discrimination against people with disabilities, including those with physical, mental, and learning differences. The purpose of 504 plans is to make classrooms accessible and ensure that no one with a disability is excluded from participating in federally funded programs, including elementary, secondary, or post-secondary schooling.

The goal of a 504 plan is to remove obstacles and allow students with disabilities to participate freely in public education or schools that receive public funding. 504 plans seek 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 school districts offer a "free appropriate public education" (FAPE) to eligible students with special needs in their constituencies. When it comes to 504 plans, it doesn't matter the nature of the disability or how severe it is, but depending on the student's condition(s), an individualized education plan (IEP) may be more appropriate to support their learning.

504 plan accommodations are designed so that a student can learn in a classroom environment for the entire day and participate in school just as they would if they didn't have a disability, rather than being taught in separate special education classrooms. Each 504 plan and its listed accommodations will be uniquely suited to the individual student's needs.

Eligibility

The students defined as disabled by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act who are eligible to receive services are broader than for students eligible for IEPs and encompass all disabilities. Section 504 does not specifically list which disabilities are included.

The included disabilities are usually limited to those with long-term disabilities, such as attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Some impermanent disabilities, for example while recovering from a medical condition, may qualify in the short-term.

Children who benefit from 504 plans are those who are able to learn at a typical level if they are provided appropriate accommodations. This means that a child with intellectual disabilities will most likely need an IEP while a child with diabetes or asthma might require a 504. Other disabilities, such as ADHD, dyslexia, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), could be candidates for a 504 or an IEP depending on the specifics of the child's condition.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, a child with a disability is defined as a person who:

  1. Has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity;
  2. Has a record of such an impairment;
  3. Is regarded as having such an impairment.

Eligibility for a 504 plan is not defined by 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, physical movement, and learning. The Department of Education also includes "major bodily functions" as 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 the student 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, extra time for homework or tests, extra check-ins from teachers, or access to electronic devices (such as laptops equipped with voice-to-text features).

504 Plans vs. IEPs

There is often some confusion regarding the differences between a 504 plan and an individualized education plan (IEP). While both tools are intended to help children with disabilities learn with adaptations to their needs, they take different approaches. 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, which may include alterations to the academic instruction and expectations. A 504 plan may include just one or two accommodations (a peanut-free environment, for example) or several. An IEP is a legal document that includes objectives, goals, accommodations, and a description of an agreed-upon educational setting.

Establishing a 504 Plan

Before parents can obtain a 504 plan to accommodate their child, they need to go through the often lengthy process of getting a 504 plan approved and implemented. 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.

The first step is to contact your child's teacher, principal, and/or counselor with your concerns and to request your child be evaluated for a 504 plan. You'll often want to get an official disability diagnosis from your child's pediatrician that you can share with the school, as well.

Then, the school will follow their protocols, which usually involve assessing your child, documenting your child's disability, and establishing a plan based on those findings. Often, testing or other evaluation tools are used to determine the best supports for each child, as well as to establish eligibility.

Teachers may suggest testing and evaluation but parents can also request it. The school can consider diagnoses from doctors, test results, academic performance, as well as comments from teachers, parents, and others to determine if the child has a disability that necessitates a 504 plan and which accommodations will be the most helpful (and feasible).

School districts typically have a coordinator who handles IEP and/or 504 plans. It's also common for a team to be established to develop the plan. This may include the student's teacher, principal, counselor, and/or parents. Often, multiple meetings take place to confirm your child's eligibility and then to create and monitor the plan.

There is no requirement that a 504 plan be written and what is typically provided varies by the school district. However, 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 request that your school provides a written and signed 504 plan. 

What's Included

The actual format of the 504 plan will depend upon your school. If they do not have one, you can download or create your own form and/or ask that the plan be put into writing, as noted above. 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—or the funds to back-up these supports. The plan will be tailored to your child's specific needs and have provisions to measure and document your child's progress in the classroom each school year.

Examples of Accommodations

Accommodations may include the following:

  • Placing a child at the front of the classroom or other optimal seating
  • Providing a child with an allergen-free environment
  • Providing a child with extra time or a quiet space for taking a test or doing homework
  • Providing a child with technology to support particular needs (such as voice-to-text technology or text-to-speech aides)
  • Providing a reduction in homework
  • Providing a tutor after school to help with assignments
  • Requiring teachers and aides to receive training relating to your child's particular disability (such as CPR training or watching instructional videos about ADHD)

A Word From Verywell

A 504 plan can be a beneficial tool that helps your child receive instruction inside the classroom. It can make a significant difference in their academic experience while also supporting their social-emotional development by keeping them in the classroom with their peers. If you think your child may benefit from accommodations due to their disability, ask about getting a 504 plan at your school.

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  1. U.S. Department of Education. Disability Discrimination: Overview of the Laws.

  2. U.S. Department of Education. Disability Discrimination.

  3. U.S. Department of Education. Know Your Rights: Students with ADHD.

  4. U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights. Parent and Educator Resource Guide to Section 504 in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools. Published December 2016.

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