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.
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.