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What Is a 504 Plan? How Do You Get One?

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What’s Covered:


If you’re the parent of a student with a disability, there are many resources available to help your child succeed in school. The most common courses of action are the Individualized Education Program (IEP) and the 504 plan.


The IEP typically applies to children with more severe disabilities, but many students who don’t qualify for this program can still secure a 504 plan. What accommodations does it grant, and how can you get one? Here’s what you need to know.


What is a 504 Plan?


Intended to give all children equal opportunities in schools, a 504 plan is created for students with disabilities or impairments to provide them with resources that will help their learning. Discrimination against students with disabilities is prohibited under Section 504 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which states that any program receiving federal funding must meet the needs of people with disabilities as it does those without.


A 504 plan may describe specific accommodations or procedures the school will provide or undertake to ensure that a student receives adequate support. Public school districts have 504 plan policies and coordinators who ensure compliance.


Examples of 504 Accommodations


Accommodations illustrated in a 504 plan will vary based on the nature of the disability. For instance, students with ADHD will likely have different accommodations than students with autism. 


Some examples of potential accommodations are:


  • Extended time on tests
  • Extra time to complete assignments
  • Seating plans
  • Behavioral management 
  • Less distracting environments to take tests
  • Assistive technology
  • Modified schedules
  • Adjusted schedules
  • Verbal testing

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How to Get a 504 Plan


If you think your child would benefit from a 504 plan, it’s helpful to have a diagnosis or documentation of their disability. A diagnosis is not required to secure the plan, but it’s a useful step. Otherwise, you should have some type of documentation or evidence of your child’s disability. A teacher might recommend an evaluation.


Contact your school’s 504 coordinator to request a 504 plan. If you’ve already asked for and been denied an IEP, then this will be the next natural step, since many students who don’t qualify for an IEP do qualify for a 504 plan.


The process differs from school district to school district, but usually, they will perform an evaluation to determine the kinds of resources that could be helpful to your child. They will use information such as teacher observations, grades, reports from professionals (such as physicians or psychologists), and other information to inform their decision.


Updating Your 504 Plan


By law, your 504 plan must be reevaluated on a regular basis. Different districts and schools will have different procedures. Many will reconsider your 504 plan annually to assess the accommodations. Parents can also request a review if they feel the plan isn’t meeting their child’s needs.


If you’re unable to resolve any issues related to your child’s 504 plan by working with the school, you have several courses of action available. Some districts offer Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), which includes non-litigative methods of resolving disputes, such as mediation or arbitration, with a neutral third party working with the parents and school to come to a solution.


If you believe your child’s rights are being violated, you can file a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), describing how the school has failed to comply with Section 504, within 180 days of the incident occurring. A lawsuit against your school district is usually a last resort, but legal action may be necessary if your child is being discriminated against because of a disability. 


The Bottom Line


A 504 plan can be very effective in helping your child learn. But it’s not a catch-all for solving every problem. Your child will be taught alongside students without learning disabilities (which is not always the case with an IEP), and they will receive accommodations deemed appropriate based on the results of their evaluation. They will still be disciplined for disruptions or inappropriate behavior, and they won’t receive “special treatment” outside of the accommodations described in the 504 plan.


Ensuring your child is receiving the best instruction for their needs doesn’t end with high school. You’ll also want to find the college that’s the right fit. CollegeVine can help. Accounting for factors like student to faculty ratio, state and region, sports teams available, prestige, and more, we’ll build a college list with the best-fit schools for your child. Sign up for your free CollegeVine account today to get started!

Short Bio
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn with her demigod/lab mix Hercules. She specializes in education, technology and career development. She also writes satire and humor, which has appeared in Slackjaw, Points in Case, Little Old Lady Comedy, Jane Austen’s Wastebasket, and Funny-ish. View her work and get in touch at: www.lauraberlinskyschine.com.