How to get a 504 Plan
Before I get to the steps of how to ask for a 504 plan for your child, I feel the need to get on my soapbox for a moment. If you don’t want to read my rant, feel free to skip past the photo.
Ok, so here goes. 504 Education Plans and IEPs often get lumped together in thoughts and practice. However, they are very different documents. And the thing that bothers me is this. 504s were never intended to be used as an “IEP Lite.” There were never intended to be a stepping stool or a precursor to an IEP. You do not have to “try a 504” before getting an IEP.
504s absolutely have their place in our world. But as school funding situations get worse, I see this problem increase. 504s are being overused. I have a blog post that explains the differences between a 504 and an IEP. But 504s offer no special education, no progress monitoring and fewer protections for students. They are cheaper for schools to create and implement, and there’s less accountability. Hence, the reasons they get overused.
So if you want to ask for a 504, yes, the steps are below.
But if your gut is telling you that your child needs an IEP and special education, please don’t concede to a 504. Don’t agree to “just try it out” as you will lose valuable time for your child.
Keep pushing. </rant>
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 in schools that receive public funding. It seeks to level the playing field so those students can safely pursue the same opportunities as everyone else.
How does Section 504 define disability and major life functions?
Under Section 504, disability is defined broadly. A student is determined to have a disability if he or she has a physical or mental impairment affecting a body system.
This impairment or disability must substantially limit one or more major life activities. These activities include such things as walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, working, caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, eating, sleeping, standing, lifting, bending, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and more.
When determining whether a student has a physical or mental impairment, the school district must not consider the improvement of a disability caused by a “mitigating measure” such as medication, hearing aids, prosthetics, mobility devices, or other means.
Does Section 504 require schools to do evaluations?
Yes. The school must conduct an evaluation to determine if the student has a disability as defined under this act. Based on documented information from varied sources, decisions must be made by a group of school personnel who are knowledgeable about the child, the meaning of the data, and the placement options.
How the 504 Process Works
How does a school determine if a child is eligible for services either under IDEA, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or under Section 504? The chart from Minnesota Department of Education gives you an idea of how the two processes work.
Does the disability substantially limit one or more major life activities? Under Section 504, disability is defined broadly. A student is determined to have a disability if he or she has a physical or mental impairment affecting a body system. The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) defines a physical or mental impairment as “any physiological disorder or condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or anatomical loss affecting one or more of the following body systems: neurological; musculoskeletal; special sense organs; respiratory, including speech organs; cardiovascular; reproductive; digestive; genitourinary; hemic and lymphatic; skin; and endocrine; or any mental or psychological disorder, such as mental retardation, organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness, and specific learning disabilities.”
This impairment or disability must substantially limit one or more major life activities. These activities include such things as walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, working, caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, eating, sleeping, standing, lifting, bending, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and more. The legislation also states that the school district must not consider the improvement caused by a “mitigating measure” such as medication, hearing aids, prosthetics, mobility devices, or other means when determining whether a student has a physical or mental impairment.
How to Get a 504 Plan.
- Gather your data and information about your child. This will include clinical data, such as information from doctors. And, anecdotal information and examples of how you are seeing your child’s disability interfering with their education.
- Request the 504 Plan, in writing. It should be well-written, not done in just 5 minutes. You want to list all the reasons you think your child should have a 504 plan. And, include the accommodations you are asking for. You should send it to your child’s teacher and/or principal. If possible, find out if your school has a 504 Plan Coordinator, and send to them as well. If not, ask in your letter that it be forwarded to that person.
- Follow up with the school 504 Plan Coordinators. The evaluation and development of a 504 is very different from that of an IEP. It is not as well-defined as the IEP process is. In fact, there is no obligation for the school to include the parent in the process. Nor do they have to seek your input. It is best practice but doesn’t always happen. If you don’t hear anything in a week or do, do another email.
How long does it take to get a 504 Plan?
I would say plan on 60-90 days. Keep in mind, you can put in some measures at home on your own. Section 504 Plans are very common for disabilities like ADHD and Anxiety, and there are supports you can do while you’re waiting for a 504 plan.
What happens if my child is eligible?
Section 504 requires a school district to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to each eligible student in its jurisdiction, regardless of the nature or severity of the disability. Under Section 504, an appropriate education for a student with a disability could consist of education in a regular classroom, education in a regular classroom with supplementary services, or special education and related services. A child who has a disability but does not qualify for special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) may still be entitled to services or accommodations under Section 504.
The school must provide a plan for providing reasonable accommodations and other services so a child may participate fully in the school setting. Parents are usually invited to a meeting where the plan is developed. Putting the plan in writing is an effective way to document what services the school will be providing.
Sample 504 Plans
What does a 504 plan look like? Here are some samples.
What are accommodations under Section 504?
When the school determines that a child is eligible for services under Section 504, the school must eliminate barriers to his or her access to full participation in school activities, including the general education curriculum. The school can often eliminate barriers by providing accommodations for a student. Accommodations must give the child meaningful equal opportunities, consider his or her functional limitations, and offer alternative methods of performance. Examples of accommodations include testing in a quiet room, preferential seating, digital textbooks, tailored homework assignments, and a sign language interpreter for a track meet. I have a printable list of literally 100s of possible accommodations. You can download it here:
The school said no!
It happens. So, you’re going to have to push more and decide what you are going to do. This is the part where I would involve an advocate or attorney, depending on the situation.
You can also read this letter regarding ADHD and 504s from the US Dept of Ed. It has helpful links to your rights. If this document isn’t showing in the viewer (it sometimes gets weird depending on your browser), scroll past it and you can download it.