Thursday, September 20, 2007

What is a 504 Plan?

Note: Visit my education blog, The Green Cup.

What is a 504 Plan? Do you need one? How is it different from an Individualized Education Plan (IEP)? These are important question if your child has a disability.

In the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Public Law No. 93-112), Section 504 states that: "no otherwise qualified individual with a disability...shall solely by reason of his/her disability be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination to any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance..." (emphasis added).

At the moment, every public school system in America receives some degree of federal funding. Because of this, they are all subject to this law. What that means for you is this: if your child has a disability, the school system must accommodate that disability in some way - under Section 504 if no other way is available. Probably that will mean the development of a formal plan for defining and providing those accommodations.

A 504 Plan is civil rights document. It protects your child's rights regarding access to education. Often the disability is a medical problem like asthma, childhood diabetes, or allergies.

Sometimes the problem is more complicated and the school system and parents must decide whether the child needs a 504 Plan under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 or an IEP under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The difference between the two, in theory, is simple. Technically, a 504 Plan provides accommodations for the disability. Accommodations are environmental in nature. Changes are made to the learning environment:

  • a handicapped bathroom is installed.
  • an elevator is made available.
  • assistive technology (possibly something as simple as a cassette tape player) is provided.
  • perhaps the student is given extra time on some assignments or tests.

The curriculum itself does not change. An IEP, on the other hand, is for students whose disabilities require specially designed instruction. The curriculum itself must be modified in order for the student to receive an appropriate education.

Do you need a 504 Plan? A 504 Plan formalizes a set of accommodations that the school may be quite willing to make informally. For example, if your child has asthma and you bring the school some kind of a medical statement to document the fact, the school may be quiet willing to:
  • alter the child's schedule of physical activity.
  • hold medication in the office for the child and administer it when appropriate.
  • commit to take a particular set of steps in the event of an emergency.
Under these circumstances, does the 504 Plan serve a purpose? Maybe not. But having the formal document in place can be reassuring for everyone involved. And sometimes the exact accommodations to be used aren't as obvious as in the case above. In those cases, the formal plan helps people remember what to do.

There are some basic steps involved in obtaining a 504 Plan. The first is referral. A teacher, support staff, a parent, or a medical professional may refer the student for consideration, usually by calling the school and speaking to the principal or the chair of a school team that considers such matters.

The next step is a meeting to discuss the referral; perhaps a 504 Plan will emerge from that meeting, or perhaps more than one meeting will be required as the team involved gathers information. The last step is to review the effectiveness of the 504 Plan at some later date.

A 504 Plan can be an effective tool for safeguarding your child's right to an appropriate education.


phay3s said...

My son was on a 504 plan in Middle school for ADHD. He had modifcation to help him stay on track like seating in front of class, behavior modification (redirection) and alerts if he was missing or not completing assignments. It has been 4 weeks unto High school and they took him off stating he makes A and B so he does not have any learning problems that qualifies him for the 504 plan.

Anonymous said...

My son is a paraplegic and was on an I.E.P program until 5th grade and then they put him on a 504. Since they put him on the 504 I feel that his issues are not getting addressed. The 504 counseler at his school told me that "she was too busy to have a meeting" this year when school started. I had to go and seek her out, just to get an answer-excuse, like that. He is now having difficulty taking notes and his grade average has fallen. I had to go above this "counselors" head to get action and hopefully we will be having a meeting soon.