What is a Section 504 plan?
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act is a federal law designed to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities in programs and activities that receive Federal financial assistance from the U.S. Department of Education.
Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act was the first disability civil rights law to be enacted in the United States. It 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 . . . .”From Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
Does your child need a 504 plan? What even is one? What does it do? What can you get on a 504 plan? As a professional advocate, I’ve seen a lot of misuse and overuse of Section 504 plans. This leads to a lot of confusion among parents. So let’s dig in. Here’s what a 504 plan should look like.
Section 504 of the the Rehabilitation Act
Section 504s are older than IEPs. Remember, the federal IEP laws were not enacted until 1975.
From Disability Rights and Education Fund:
Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act was the first disability civil rights law to be enacted in the United States. It prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in programs that receive federal financial assistance, and set the stage for enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Section 504 works together with the ADA and IDEA to protect children and adults with disabilities from exclusion, and unequal treatment in schools, jobs and the community.
A 504 Plan is just the written part–it details how the school is going to prevent discrimination against your child, as far as their disabilities. It is a list of accommodations that they will provide to level the playing field between your child and non-disabled students. It is accommodations only. If your child needs Special Education (Defined as specially designed instruction) then they require an IEP.
You can read more about the Office of Civil Rights and their role with 504 Plans here. They have an FAQ section.
Both a 504 and an IEP?
Can a student have both a 504 and an IEP? An example of this would be a child that has dyslexia and Type 1 Diabetes. They need special education for the dyslexia but only accommodations for the diabetes.
Having a 504 and an IEP is not “illegal” as many parents and uninformed advocates may claim. Yes, you can have both. However, most special education experts agree that it is redundant and unnecessary. The child could have their diabetes accommodations listed on their IEP.
With a 504, you don’t have Procedural Safeguards to protect you if it is not followed. Even the folks at the Office of Civil Rights (OCR, they enforce 504s) advise against having both. Putting those accommodations on an IEP will satisfy 504 requirements, per their booklet. (full booklet below)
Please note that even though that little snippet mentions FAPE and 504 plans, please read the whole booklet. FAPE and 504s is not defined the same way it is for IEPs.
If you read click the “difference between 504 and IEP” link, there is another post further explaining the differences between the two.
504 Plan Not Being Followed
Due to a 504 and an IEP being very different, you do not have Procedural Safeguards with a 504. If a 504 is not followed, you have only a few options. You can compile an OCR complaint. Parents should also check their state’s Dept of Ed website and see if there is an applicable state complaint.
What if my child just needs speech therapy?
As you can see from the snippet above, if the child is just receiving a related service, a 504 may be appropriate. Read the full booklet below before you go to your 504 meeting.
I have another post that lists several Dear Colleague and Guidance Letters. In that post, you will find a letter further explaining the issue of a child whose only need is speech therapy.
504 Plans, more information:
Parents often have many 504 questions, including:
- How do I get a 504?
- What do I do if my 504 is not being followed?
- Which is better, a 504 or an IEP?
- Do 504s cover extra curricular activities and field trips?
- What 504 accommodations can I ask for?
I have covered all of those questions and more below. This is just a sampling of the posts I have done on 504s and accommodations. Use the search bar if there is something else you need.
My final thoughts: More and more often, I am seeing 504 plans and RTI being used as an “IEP Lite.” That is not what either item is designed for, nor its original intent. As with anything else, go with your gut feeling on this and keep advocating if your child is not receiving what they need.
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