504 Education Plans
What Is a 504 Plan?
A 504 plan is a way for schools to provide support for students with a disability so that they can learn in a regular classroom.
The name 504 plan comes from Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. This law prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in programs or activities that receive federal funding (such as public schools or publicly funded private schools). This ensures that students with disabilities can get a free education that works for them.
Who Can Get a 504 Plan?
Students are eligible for 504 plans if they have a disability that limits daily life activities such as self-care, walking, seeing, breathing, hearing, speaking, or learning.
Students who need a 504 plan can include those with:
- attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
- hearing problems or vision impairment
- chronic health conditions, such as asthma or allergies
- mental health conditions, such as anxiety or depression
A student returning to school after a serious illness or injury also might get a 504 plan.
How Is a 504 Plan Made?
First, a parent, teacher or other school staff member, health care provider, or therapist asks the school to evaluate the student for a 504 plan. Every school handles 504 plans a little differently, but most have a 504 team that may include the principal, teachers, school nurse, guidance counselor, and psychologist. The team looks at a child’s grades, test scores, medical records, and what teachers report about the student to decide if the student is eligible for a 504 plan.
If the 504 team decides that a student is eligible, they work with the parents to decide what kind of supports (called accommodations) the student needs to succeed. These are listed in the 504 plan.
What Does a 504 Plan Include?
The 504 plan is based on each student's needs and strengths. Accommodations can include:
- sitting in a certain place or with a certain desk or chair in the classroom
- extra time on tests and assignments
- use of speech-to-text (dictation) for writing
- modified textbooks (such as one that can be read aloud to the student)
- adjusted class schedules
- verbal (out loud) testing
- allowing visits to the nurse's office
- occupational therapy or physical therapy
Many other accommodations are available. If a parent asks for one that the school can’t provide, the school might offer another one that would help. Most accommodations in 504 plans don’t change what the student learns — rather, they remove barriers to learning.
The 504 plan should be reviewed at least yearly to make sure the accommodations are up to date and work for the student's needs.
How Do 504 Plans and Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) Differ?
The main difference is that:
- A 504 plan provides accommodations so a student can learn in a regular classroom.
- An IEP is a plan for specialized learning (for example, for dyslexia) or special education. 504 plans don’t usually change what the child learns but IEPs can.
There are other differences too, such as who is eligible, who creates the plan, and how changes are made to the plan.
Some students have both a 504 plan and an IEP. For example, a student with autism spectrum disorder may have an IEP for learning supports and a 504 plan for occupational therapy.
What Happens if Parents Don’t Agree With the School About the 504 Plan?
Sometimes parents and the school disagree on whether a child should have a 504 plan and/or what should be in it. If this happens to you, start by setting up a meeting to talk to the school 504 team. Schools want their students to succeed and will work with parents.
If you still have concerns, you can ask for a mediation session with a mediator. A mediator is professionally trained to help with the discussion without taking either side. If the issue is not resolved in the mediation session, you can request a due process hearing. You may need to get a lawyer for the hearing. You can also make a written appeal to the school district or the U.S. Office for Civil Rights saying that the school violated 504 rights.
How Can Parents Help?
You are your child’s most important teacher and advocate. Help your child by building a strong relationship with the 504 team. This way, you show that you value education and that you want to work together respectfully to help your child succeed at school.
It also helps to:
- Understand the 504 plan. Know what the accommodations are and how they will be used.
- Talk to the school about how your child is doing. Let them know if you think the accommodations are working.
If you think you need to add or change accommodations, talk to the 504 team about your concerns.