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504 Plans: Eligibility, Qualifications & Parent Tips

by Emily Stone, LICSW and Lead Clinical Strategist at Mightier

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Can a 504 plan help your child be successful at school? Make sure your child is receiving the protection and support they need with a 504.

What Does a 504 Plan Do?

504 plans are put into place to even the playing field and protect kids with disabilities while they are at school. They outline important accommodations to address environmental barriers that may hinder a child’s learning. As outlined by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, a federal civil rights law, section 504 guarantees that students with disabilities and mental impairment will not be discriminated against and will have equal access to education.

Qualifying for a 504 Plan: Eligibility and Requirements

According to the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR), In order to qualify for a 504, kids must meet specific criteria outlined by their school district. Typically, the criteria includes having a diagnosed or suspected disability that impacts a major life activity in some way. Kids with various conditions, from ADHD to diabetes, may be eligible for a 504 plan. Public schools should have their 504 policies in writing and procedural safeguards outlining rights available to parents. However, not all school districts in the United States are the same. If you move from one school district to another, even in the same state, make sure you communicate with both the sending and receiving school so your child’s 504 does not get lost in the transition.

Initiating a 504 plan

There should also be a designated contact person at your child’s school who can facilitate the 504 process. Typically 504s are initiated by a teacher or counselor, or by parent request. A meeting is then held to discuss classroom data and anything the classroom teacher is doing above and beyond for your child to ensure their success. As a team, everyone at the meeting carefully constructs the 504 plan to include specific accommodations that the student needs on a regular basis.

504 Accommodations

Teachers and counselors may recommend a data collection period to determine what classroom accommodations a student needs. The accommodation plan should address specific challenges your child is having. For example, a student might need extra time for school work, homework assignments and tests, the opportunity to take breaks, or the teacher giving additional prompts and checking for understanding. 504 plans are a regular education initiative, and unlike an Individualized Education Program (IEP) they do not involve additional related services . If your child has special needs that requires a deeper level of support (such as direct interventions or a special education plan), a 504 is not appropriate. Find more examples of accommodations here.

Parent Tips

Be transparent with the educator and school team about how your child learns best and what motivates them. Information about your child’s ability, strengths and what has worked well in the past is extremely valuable. As a parent, you are an important member of the 504 team. You can request that specific individuals attend the meeting if you think it would be beneficial. Clarify what each accommodation will look like in different settings at the school, and encourage the team to make the plan as specific as possible to minimize misunderstandings.

Other Considerations

Once initiated, 504 plans should be periodically updated as your child’s needs change. Some accommodations might stick while others are added or fall away. Unless dismissed, 504 plans can be used throughout a child’s educational career. Even colleges have offices dedicated to special education services for students with learning disabilities to help students who need accommodations..

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