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504 Plans

Angela Oswalt, MSW, edited by Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

In the event a child is evaluated for special needs services and declined, that child may still be eligible to receive certain educational accommodations through a "504 plan." A 504 plan is written plan that describes the educational modifications, accommodations, and services a child should receive in order to meet individual medical, physical, or emotional needs. This plan is called a 504 plan because it is authorized by section 504 of another Federal law, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This is a broader law than IDEA requiring all entities receiving Federal funding, including schools, to provide "access" to individuals with disabilities.

Students who do not qualify for special education services under IDEA but who do qualify for a 504 plan may be eligible to receive accommodations such as: reduced homework, extended test-taking time, intensive tutoring, elevator access, or other services. Whereas the disabilities enshrined in IDEA are permanent in nature, 504 plans are allowed to address temporary as well as permanent disability conditions.

For example, if Samantha became ill with mono this year, her physical stamina and ability to attend school and complete work would be hampered. In fact, her doctor may order limited activity. While she will not be permanently disabled by this condition, it will have a significant impact on her abilities for the remainder of the school year. Samantha's Mom can apply for a 504 plan on Samantha's behalf, allowing her various temporary accommodations such as extended time to complete assignments, modified assignments that aren't as labor-intensive, a shortened school-day schedule, and/or supplemental tutoring at home as necessary to address her temporary needs.

Parents desiring 504 plan accommodations for their children should make a formal written request just as they would request an evaluation for special education services under IDEA. Parents can request these laws from the local school district or state education department.

A multidisciplinary team from the school determines whether or not a student is eligible for accommodations under a 504 plan. This team may include teachers, administrators, the school psychologist or social worker, the nurse, etc. Often, the team will request documentation confirming a youth's physical, medical, or psychological problem from a doctor or psychologist. The team's task is to determine that a student has a physical or mental disability and that the disability substantially limits one or multiple major life activities, such as walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, working, caring for oneself, and performing manual tasks.

Parents have legal rights under Section 504 provisions. While these rights are somewhat similar to the rights secured by IDEA, there are significant differences as well. School districts have to give parents notice that they are identifying and considering a student for a 504 plan. Most schools are required to have a staff member responsible for maintaining the 504 plans and to handle any grievances parents file. As well, parents can request due process hearings, and school districts are required to provide non-biased proceedings. Further complaints need to be taken to the US Office of Civil Rights, as the Department of Education does not oversee 504 plans.