Some children with learning disabilities, mild special needs or other health conditions that are limiting in a classroom setting may need a 504 plan. These children don’t qualify for special education services or plans called Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), but still have difficulty participating in a normal classroom without some accommodations.
The term 504 Plan refers to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibits discrimination against a person based on disability from any program or activity, public or private, that receives federal funding. The law leaves the definition of disability to the Americans with Disabilities Act and Ammendments Act (ADAAA). The ADAAA was expanded in 2008 to incorporate a broader definition of disability.
According to Section 504 a person is disabled if he or she “(i) has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities, (ii) has a record of such an impairment, or (iii) is regarded as having such an impairment.” Major life activities can include reading, concentrating, learning, communicating, seeing and hearing. In order to determine if a child is eligible for a 504 Plan, they will be evaluated by a team of people determined by the school. Unlike an IEP, the child must already be enrolled in school for the 504 evaluation to begin; IEP evaluations and plans can be written prior to the child entering school.
The key difference between 504 Plans and IEPs is that children with 504 Plans have learning accommodations made within their classroom, making the typical learning environment accessible for the student. IEPs are created when a 504 Plan isn’t enough and the child needs additional special education services, pull-out help or other more intensive programs. IEPs require measureable growth documentation and is reviewed and updated annually.
Some potential accommodations that can be included in 504 plans are preferential classroom seating, extra time on tests or assignments, larger print worksheets or books, additional verbal instructions or providing short breaks from classroom activities. There are many more accommodations depending upon the child’s needs and specific area of disability.
The National Center for Learning Disabilities has an introductory video on their website which provides some additional information about 504 Plans.
If you think that your child might qualify for a 504 you should contact your school or your school district’s special education department.