Before I get to the steps of how to get a 504 plan for your child, I feel the need to get on my soapbox for a moment. Because schools have gone astray, in my opinion, as far as providing 504 plans.

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.

how to get a 504 plan

504s were never intended to be used as an “IEP Lite.” They were never intended to be a stepping stool or a precursor to an IEP.

Save The Post IEP Parent Form

📧 Save this for later? 📧

We can instantly send this to your inbox. Or, send to a friend.

You do not have to “try a 504” before getting an IEP.

I’ve been a professional special education advocate since 2010, and I’ve lost count of how many times I have seen this happen.

504s absolutely have their place in our world. But as school funding situations get worse, I see this problem increasing. 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, they get overused.

How to Get a 504 Plan

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 and advocating. Read your parents’ rights and use them. </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.

how to get a 504 plan

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

  1. 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. To obtain a 504 plan for my child, it is necessary to have legal documentation of their needs. This includes medical diagnosis records, schoolwork, report cards, and private evaluations. Organizing these documents in a binder can be helpful in presenting a clear picture of my child’s needs. As a parent, it is your responsibility to ensure that all necessary documentation is gathered and presented to the school.
  2. 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 it to them as well. If not, ask in your letter that it be forwarded to that person. To request a plan, you can use a letter template that includes details about your child’s needs. I have letter templates in that link.
  3. Follow up with the school 504 Plan Coordinators. The evaluation and development of a 504 are very different from those of an IEP. It is not as well-defined as the IEP process is. Some things are similar to IEPs–there will be an evaluation process and a determination. You want to stay in contact with them to participate in the process.

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 it doesn’t always happen.

How long does it take to get a 504 Plan?

I would say plan on 60–90 days. Keep in mind, you can take some measures at home on your own. Section 504 Plans are very common for disabilities like ADHD and Anxiety, and there are things you can do while you’re waiting for a 504 plan. You don’t have to wait for a 504 plan to implement supports at home, or things like a smartwatch with reminders.

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 would include what you want in your request letter.

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.

There is a due process remedy for 504 plans. I do not recommend entering into any legal proceedings without speaking to a lawyer. At least go for the consult, find out what the fees are before making a final decision. The school district will have lawyers on their side.

You can also read this letter regarding ADHD and 504s from the US Department of Education. It has helpful links to your rights.

Free IEP Binder
Featured Image