What’s inside this article: Information regarding what a 504 plan is, the difference between 504 plans and IEPs, how to decide if your child needs one, and what steps you need to take to get a 504 plan for your child.
In some public schools in the United States, anywhere from 20 to 30 percent of students have 504 plans.
Have you wondered whether or not your child could benefit from this kind of support? Are you confused about what 504 plans are or the kinds of accommodations they offer?
If so, read on to learn more, including the steps you need to take to get a 504 plan for your child.
What Is a 504 Plan?
A 504 plan is a formal plan developed for children with special needs or specific learning challenges. It ensures they get the support and accommodations they need while at school.
504 plans are available to any student whose needs limit their daily activities or affect their school performance.
In addition to accommodating students and giving them the tools they need to succeed, 504 plans also prevent discrimination. They protect students with disabilities and are covered under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which is a civil rights law that was passed in 1973.
This also means a 504 plan is a legal document that your child’s school is required to follow.
Example 504 Plan Accommodations
504 Plans can include an array of accommodations depending on the child’s unique needs. The following are just a few examples:
- A quiet, interruption-free environment for taking tests and quizzes
- More frequent check-ins from the teacher to ensure they’re understanding key concepts taught in class
- Changes in the way curricula are presented, such as listening to audiobooks instead of reading written text or offering oral exams instead of written ones
- Separate sets of books/supplies to combat contamination fears
- Opportunities to leave class early to avoid crowded hallways and minimize social anxiety
For more ideas and examples, read: 50+ Student Accommodation Ideas to Help Kids Succeed at School
It’s important to note that students who receive 504 plans are still learning the same material as their peers. The content of their education doesn’t change, only the way they go about learning it.
504 plans simply eliminate barriers and create a more equal playing field for all students to thrive.
504 Plans vs. IEPs
A 504 plan is different from an Individualized Education Program (or IEP for short).
They’re both created with the goal of helping students to thrive in school, and they’re both available at no cost to the child’s family. However, IEPs are part of special education, and 504 plans are not.
There are also different requirements for students to receive IEPs compared to 504 plans.
For example, to qualify for an IEP, a child has to have at least one of the 13 disabilities that are listed in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (or IDEA). This list includes Specific Learning Disabilities, ADHD, autism, speech and language impairments, deafness, and orthopedic impairments.
504 plans, on the other hand, are available to any child with special needs or challenges that interfere with their ability to learn at school .
Because the definition of a disability is broader in Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, some children who don’t qualify for IEPs can still get help through a 504 plan.
How to Get a 504 Plan
If you think your child will benefit from a 504 plan, here are some steps you can take to ensure they get the help they need:
1. Gather Documentation
For your child to receive a 504 plan, they must have a documented condition or disability.
To begin the process of getting their plan and accommodations, you’ll need to gather records that verify this. This includes doctor’s notes, medical records, and records from private evaluations. Schoolwork, report cards, and notes or recommendations from teachers can be helpful, too.
2. Reach Out to the School’s 504 Coordinator
Every public school in the United States has a designated staff member who’s responsible for handling 504 plans. They will be instrumental in helping your child get the accommodations they need.
Reach out to the 504 coordinator for your child’s school district and let them know that you want to begin the process of getting a 504 plan.
You can typically find this person’s contact information on the school district’s website, or you can ask your child’s teacher or the school principal.
3. Write a Formal Request
To get a 504 plan, you’ll need to write a formal request letter. Your letter doesn’t have to be long or elaborate. However, it should be specific and make it clear why you’re requesting a plan for your child.
Include information about your child’s needs, and how you would like to see them accommodated to support their learning.
For example, let’s say your child has been diagnosed with Social Anxiety Disorder. You might mention in your letter that they need to have opportunities to talk to the teacher one-on-one to show they’re retaining information, rather than being called on to speak in front of the entire class.
4. Follow Up If Needed
Ideally, you’ll hear back right away from the school district’s 504 coordinator after submitting your request.
If you don’t receive any kind of response within a few days, though, you may need to follow up with a phone call or additional request.
5. Prepare for the Evaluation Process
Technically, your child does not need a formal evaluation to receive a 504 plan. However, the 504 coordinator will likely want to do some assessing of their own before approving your request.
They might want to talk to your child’s teacher, observe them in class, or review their classwork work.
6. Arrange a Meeting with the School
After the evaluation, the 504 coordinator will likely want to meet with you to discuss your child’s needs in more depth and let you know if they think a 504 plan is the right solution to their learning challenges.
This is a good opportunity for you to ask additional questions about what the plan entails or how the school is going to support your child.
Make a list of questions you have, and accommodation ideas you think will benefit your child so you don’t forget anything important at the meeting.
It can feel overwhelming sitting around a table with the school staff, especially if your child regularly encounters behavior challenges. You can bring an advocate with you, if you feel like you need one to help you in advocating for your child.
7. Collaborate and Create a Plan
Finally, you’ll collaborate with the 504 coordinator, your child’s teacher, and other representatives from the school to create a plan that centers your child and accommodates their needs.
Every 504 plan is unique and tailored to the child’s individual needs. However, if you’re unsure of where to start, there are plenty of templates available online that you can reference. You can also reach out and speak with a Special Education Advocate, and your child’s doctor or therapist will likely have recommendations as well.
Get Help for Your Child Today
Do you want to move forward with pursuing a 504 plan for your child? You can begin this process at any time throughout the school year.
Follow the steps outlined above so you can feel confident while advocating for them and getting the accommodations they need.