504 Plans certainly have their place in our education system. After all, they guarantee access to a student’s education, even when a disability may be prohibiting access.

What’s unfortunate is that I see too many 504 Plans being handed out to pacify parents and avoid IEP evaluations. Or, when a 504 plan is warranted, it’s terribly insufficient and does nothing to help the child.

look for these red flags that your 504 plan is insufficient

Please note that this post will not get into “What is a 504 plan?” or “How to get a 504 Plan.” You can go through those hyperlinks if you need information on those topics.

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And, I have another separate post about the differences between Section 504 Plans and IEPs. But, with 504 plans, parents are not given the same rights as pertains to parent participation in the process. More on that in a bit.

Student 504 Plan

I had the pleasure of speaking with an attorney in Doylestown about this yesterday, and I’m going to include the podcast episode here. We discussed this (and lots of other stuff!) so you may want to hear it yourself.

A Bad 504 Plan

A solid 504 plan allows your child access to their education. If they don’t have access, what’s the point?

Signs that Your 504 Plan is Insufficient

  1. Accommodations are generic and likely what is going on in every classroom, every day, for every student. Or, it appears to be a list of accommodations that get used for every 504 or IEP. (copy and paste) You may even be told things like, “Oh we put this on all 504 plans.”
  2. There’s no commitment from the school to provide the accommodation. Look for tricky words like “student will have access to…” or “student will have the opportunity to…” Opportunity does not equal accommodation. For example: ‘Student will receive the teacher’s lecture notes after each class’ is much different from ‘Student will have access to the teacher’s lecture notes.’ The accommodations need to be deliberate, not just a nice idea.
  3. The onus is on the student to make it happen. Many students have 504 plans because they have a learning disability of some kind. But many times, expecting self-advocacy skills to develop spontaneously puts an undue burden on an already disadvantaged student. Many tweens and teens, with or without disabilities, are not comfortable sticking their hands up, asking for accommodations, or otherwise drawing attention to themselves. Self-advocacy should always be the ultimate goal for our kids. But if those skills are not developed yet, make sure the 504 plan reflects that.

I and Steve Jacobson (the special education lawyer) have both been with numerous IEP or 504 teams, and accommodations were never accessed by the child.

When asked, team members said, “Well, he never asked for it!”

That’s just not right. Make the 504 accommodations deliberate.

How to Get a Better 504 Plan.

Again, you don’t have the same rights as with an IEP. However, that doesn’t mean that you don’t try. Write a letter to your school district’s 504 coordinator and ask for the changes you’d like to see.

That may be some wording changes or additional accommodations. It’s not even necessary to meet about this. You can ask in the email if they want to meet or just make the changes.

As always, involve your child to the maximum extent possible. Find out from them what is working and what isn’t.

After you submit your requests, follow up. If your requests are denied or go unanswered, you can always pursue an OCR complaint.

Parents’ Rights with Section 504 Plans

Parents have the rights to:

  1. Receive notice regarding the identification, evaluation, and/or placement of your child.
  2. Examine relevant records pertaining to your child (per FERPA)
  3. Request an impartial hearing with respect to the district’s actions regarding the identification evaluation, or placement of your child, with an opportunity for the parent/guardian to participate in the hearing, to have representation by an attorney, and have a review procedure;
  4. File a complaint with your school District Section 504 Coordinator, who will investigate the allegations regarding Section 504 matters other than your child’s identification, evaluation and placement.
  5. File a complaint with the appropriate regional Office for Civil Rights. For additional information, contact: U.S. Department of Education, Washington, D.C. 20202-1100; (800) 421-3481; ocr@ed.gov
  6. Note: The State Education Agency has no direct jurisdiction over Section 504 implementation. Complaints may be addressed to your local District 504 Coordinator or to the Office for Civil Rights.

Reminders about 504 Plans.

A few final thoughts and reminders- 504 Plans are only about access. A 504 plan is not special education. A 504 plan will not teach a child to read.

A 504 plan is completely appropriate for a child who only has a vision disability and needs large print books. Large print books give the child access.

They do not teach a child to read, as it is only an accommodation. A child with dyslexia will not learn to read with a 504 plan.

Longer testing time, more time on homework assignments, and preferential seating do not teach a child to read.

This is an area where I’m seeing 504 plans being extremely overused, and then kids are not getting the interventions they need. 504 plans are great for kids who can learn with just accommodations…but they are not meant to be an “IEP light” or an IEP trial.

If your child needs special education, please keep pushing for it and use your Procedural Safeguards.

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