The 4-1-1 on 504 Plans
What is a 504 Plan? How can a 504 Plan help my child? Is my child even eligible for a 504 Plan?
“Section 504 is a federal law designed to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities in programs and activities that receive Federal financial assistance from the U.S. Department of Education. Section 504 regulations require a school district to provide a “free appropriate public education” (FAPE) to each qualified student with a disability who is in the school district’s jurisdiction, regardless of the nature or severity of the disability.” The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is responsible for overseeing and eliminating discrimination to students with special needs. This means that your child, who may not qualify for an IEP under IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), may qualify for a 504 Plan. How you ask …. and what does this all mean to MY child? Section 504 is much broader in its definition of a “disability” so your child does not need to qualify only under the 13 disability categories that are listed under IDEA. “Having a disability doesn’t automatically make a student eligible for a 504 plan. First, the school has to do an evaluation to decide if a child’s disability “substantially” limits his ability to learn and participate in the general education classroom.” This evaluation should contain documentation from several sources, including the medical diagnosis from a doctor and feedback/info from parents. A 504 Plan can be written as a long-term plan or as a temporary plan, like if your child has a broken leg and needs to use crutches.
Are 504 Plans just accommodations?
Some of us have been at a meeting and the school says that 504 Plans are “just accommodations.” That simply is not true. According to OCR, “Section 504 regulations require a school district to provide a “free appropriate public education” (FAPE) to each qualified student with a disability who is in the school district’s jurisdiction, regardless of the nature or severity of the disability. Under Section 504, FAPE consists of the provision of regular or special education and related aids and services designed to meet the student’s individual educational needs as adequately as the needs of nondisabled students are met.”
One of the major differences is that the school will not receive funds for services under a 504 Plan. So, as a parent, you could suggest that if services are needed, the team writes an IEP which would include goals and services. The team members may be different but might include some of the same members as an IEP team. The 504 Plan should also be written and updated annually or if there is a significant change (like the cast coming off of the broken leg).
The 504 Plan could be a foot in the door.
Parents are an integral part of the IEP or 504 Team and your requests for evals/data and all of your concerns should be discussed as a team with the school/district. 504 Plans are administered under a 504 Liaison/Coordinator at your district office (Link for the FL Department of Education 504 Implementation Guide – http://www.fldoe.org/core/fileparse.php/7690/urlt/0070057-sect504.pdf). If your child does not qualify for an IEP but you are “offered” a 504 Plan, I would suggest taking it. It is a “foot in the door” and data should be collected to see if the 504 Plan is helping your child to receive FAPE. If it is not and your child is falling behind, they might need that IEP. The 504 Plan is a starting point to help your child receive the Free Appropriate Public Education they are entitled to under federal law.
Doreen Franklin is a field interview for NORC and a Special Education Advocate. Doreen & her husband adopted two daughters; both are special needs. Doreen homeschooled her older daughter, who has ADHD, and tutored other children with special needs.
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