If you’re confused about the role a 504 education plan can play in your child’s education, you aren’t alone. Many parents don’t fully understand what 504 plans are meant to accomplish or whether their child’s school is obligated to make allowances for one.
Named for Section 504 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 504 plans help parents of students with physical or mental impairments work with educators to ensure their child will be treated fairly at school.
“504 plans are designed to support children in federally funded public and private schools,” said Akron Children’s clinical psychologist Rebecca Lieb, PhD. “Other private and charter schools that don’t receive such funding may have their own process or way of providing support to children with additional needs, but aren’t legally obligated to do so.”
Some of the accommodations outlined in a 504 plan include preferred seating in the front of the class, extended time to take tests or complete classwork, reduced homework load, having test questions read aloud, and using adaptive aids.
The goal is for students to be educated in regular classrooms along with the services, accommodations or educational aids they need. If that can’t be accomplished, an alternative setting or developing an individualized education program (IEP) may be necessary.
Specific questions about a need or whether it’s covered in the plan can be addressed by your child’s school. For example, food allergies may not be covered under a 504 plan, but medical action plans can be developed in conjunction with your pediatrician and provided to the school.
Whether the plan is being followed consistently often depends on the needs of the child and the complexity of the plan. Many families find that teachers can easily and successfully implement strategies outlined in the plan.
However, resources exist for parents who have difficulty getting their school to cooperate.
“I provide the names of educational advocates, based on county of residence, to support families when they need a third party to ensure that their child is receiving appropriate services,” said Dr. Lieb. “Some of the resources include the ARC of Ohio and the Parent Mentors of the Ohio Coalition for the Education of Children with Disabilities.”
Unlike an IEP, a 504 Plan doesn’t have specific rules about how to document its use or what accommodations to consider. Each child is different, so each 504 plan will be unique to the child.
“The biggest thing to remember is 504 plans (like IEPs) are based on educational need,” Dr. Lieb said. “If a child has a disability (such as a medical condition or ADHD), it doesn’t mean she is automatically eligible for a 504 plan. Eligibility occurs when the disability is interfering with her ability to learn and access the school curriculum. If a child is diagnosed with ADHD but his symptoms are well controlled, the school would likely not grant the child a 504 plan. But, if a child has chronic migraines and is missing school or leaving early as a result, the school may be more open to discussing accommodations through a 504 plan.”