What is a 504 Plan in Education?

504A 504 plan in education provides an alternative route for students with healthcare or learning needs to adequately access instructional content and programs. Such a plan is often used to address those instances when a student does not qualify for services under an Individual Education Plan. It can also be an option when parents desire a more independent program to address physical, emotional, mental or processing deficits that may be affecting their child’s educational progress.

When a 504 Plan is Considered

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act governs how students with disabilities receive a free and appropriate public education. Students experiencing academic difficulties can be assessed by an interdisciplinary team and must meet specific criteria to be found eligible for services in one of 13 special education categories, according to Understood. This includes diagnostic and educational evidence that particular conditions impede the student’s educational progress in the general education curriculum. If a student is found eligible, an educational team writes an IEP to provide learning and behavioral interventions and supports meant to improve learning outcomes. Sometimes, however, a student may have physical, mental, behavioral or learning problems that do not meet IDEA criteria for traditional special education services. In these cases, a 504 plan may be considered.

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504 Plan Eligibility

A 504 plan in education falls under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, a federal law banning discrimination against public school students with disabilities. Initially, this law applied to those with physical handicaps such as students in wheelchairs who required ramps to access school premises. However, the law’s application now extends to those with learning and attention issues who meet certain criteria. 504 eligibility can be sought independently from an IDEA assessment for special education services or as a result of not qualifying for services under IDEA criteria. As with IDEA, students go through a similar assessment process but criteria for plan acceptance is much broader. Documentation must demonstrate that students exhibit a non-transient, limiting physical or mental impairment that substantially affects one or more major life activities such as reading, concentrating or moving. Examples include:

  • Chronic Fatigue
  • Chronic Depression
  • Asthma
  • Diabetes
  • Food Allergies
  • Auto-Immune Disorders
  • Hearing Impairments
  • Attention Deficits With or Without Hyperactivity
  • Autism Spectrum Disorders Not Included Under IDEA
  • Developmental Behavior Disorders
  • Neurological Impairments Affecting Motor Skills and Communication

Accommodations Under 504 Plans

Unlike IEPs, 504s do not fall under special education services. Therefore, case managers could be a classroom teacher, guidance counselor, administrator or other assigned personnel. A 504 is written annually and covers those accommodations, modifications and strategies that should be implemented by instructional and support staff in learning and non-learning environments. For example, a child with sensitivity to loud sounds might be given an alternate place from a noisy cafeteria to eat lunch. Accommodations typically fall under these categories:

  • Classroom Environment and Seating
  • Learning and Organizational Styles
  • Self-Esteem and Socialization
  • Attention and Behavior
  • Mediation and Positive Behavior Interventions
  • Content and Skills Acquisition
  • Assignment and Homework Modifications
  • Test Taking and Grading Adjustments
  • Communication Between Home, School and Community
  • Aides and Technology Devices
  • Medication Protocols

Related Resource: Specialize an Education Degree in ADHD

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For students who do not qualify for special education services under IDEA, a 504 can provide similar supports. When correctly implemented, a 504 plan in education can also be less intrusive by allowing students to stay in general education environments where they can better meet academic milestones.