Are you wondering if a 504 plan can really help your child? That will depend on both the nature of your child's disability and what you, possibly your child, and the school district choose to do with it.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the precursor to the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) enacted in 1990, protects the rights of disabled students with the 504b Plan. Section 504 prohibits programs that receive federal dollars from discriminating against individuals with disabilities. It requires public schools to make accommodations for eligible handicapped children, whether or not they qualify for special education services under IDEA. A 504b plan could therefore provide accommodations for children with disabilities in regular classrooms, such as multi-modal instruction, extra time for tests, providing examples, study guides, use of graphic organizers, facilitating small group work, checking in for comprehension, and changes in assignments and testing procedures. Accommodations change how a student is taught or tested, but not what they are taught or expected to know.
What is a 504b Plan?
A 504 plan is a legal document that outlines a plan of instructional services for students in the general education setting. It is an agreement between a public school, a student, and a teacher. The document usually describes the types of accommodations and instructional strategies that will be made for a student in school. Not all children with disabilities are entitled to services under IDEA, only those who are "eligible" under the specified disability categories, or those whose disabilities adversely impact their ability to access the general education curriculum. Section 504 is less discriminatory: it protects all persons with a disability who
1. have a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities, such as learning
2. have a record of such an impairment; or
3. are regarded as having such an impairment.
The Section 504 regulations further define a "physical or mental impairment" as any physiological disorder or condition, cosmetic disfigurement or anatomical loss affecting one or more of the following body systems: neurological, musculoskeletal, special sense organs, respiratory including speech organs, cardiovascular, reproductive, digestive, genito-urinary, hemic and lymphatic, skin or endocrine: or any mental or psychological disorder such as mental retardation, organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness and specific learning disabilities.
Federal law requires that students with disabilities be educated along with nondisabled students to the maximum extent appropriate to the needs of the students with disabilities. This means that students with disabilities must be assigned to regular courses or classes if the students’ needs can be met there. Also, decisions on academic placement must be based on an individual student’s needs.
A 504b Plan, once in place, will be reviewed by the 504 Administrator and a student’s parents on an annual basis.
Who qualifies for a 504b Plan?
Student with disabilities that do not significantly impair, but may still adversely affect, their access to the general curriculum or impede their academic progress, may qualify for a 504b Plan. For these students, it is not the standards or contents of the curriculum that need to be altered, but rather the way instruction is delivered.
Following are examples of students who may be protected by Section 504, but who may not be eligible for (IEP) services under the IDEA:
• students with communicable diseases (i.e., hepatitis)
• students with ADHD but no co-occuring disability
• students with temporary disabilities arising from accidents who may need short term hospitalization or homebound recovery;
• students with allergies or asthma;
• students with environmental illnesses/allergies/exposure to environmental toxins
• students who are addicted to alcohol or drugs, as long as they are not currently using illegal drugs
• students with disabilities who are 22 or older depending on state law
What kind of schools do 504b Plans apply to?
Section 504 has a specific set of regulations that apply to preschool, elementary and secondary programs that receive or benefit from federal financial assistance. These are found at Title 34 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Part 104. Thus Section 504 applies only to organizations that receive federal funding, while the ADA applies to a much broader universe. Both statutes are administered by the Office for Civil Rights and considered essentially identical.
Identifying and providing services for disabled children.
Parents or teachers may both request student evaluation for a 504b Plan. Requests should be submitted to the school’s 504b Administrator, which is often the school principal. Placement decisions must be made by a team that includes people who know about the student and understand the meaning of the evaluation information. The placement team must consider a variety of documented information for each student. Identifying and providing services for eligible children with disabilities requires specialized knowledge in many areas. Evaluators should make sure that evaluation is free of racial, cultural, and gender bias.
Advantages of a 504b Plan vs. an IEP
For students who do not require curriculum content adjustments to make academic progress, but who do benefit from specialized instruction and support, several services are available that special education students cannot access. These include Title 1 math & reading programs, literacy programs, and math support programs. Occupational therapist, social adjustment, and guidance counseling services are available to students on either an IEP or a 504.
What are teachers responsible for?
To be able to provide an appropriate education to all disabled children, teachers must be able to recognize the symptoms of disabilities, and know school procedures for referral and evaluation. Once a 504 Plan has been filed, teachers are responsible for carrying out the accommodations required by it. In addition to classroom and teacher strategies, reporting requirements to parents or administrators may be a part of the plan to be adhered to. Teachers must also know school policies for administering the medications that are sometimes part of treatment, how to monitor the effects of medication, and how to report effects to supervisors, parents, and professionals. Finally, teachers must know a variety of academic and behavioral strategies to help children with disabilities succeed in the classroom. Lack of teacher training in intervention strategies is potentially tragic for students, who may fail because their teachers don't know how to help them learn.
Schools must establish procedures that allow the parents or guardians of students in elementary and secondary schools to challenge evaluations, placement procedures, and decisions. The law requires that parents or guardians be notified of any evaluation or placement action, and that they be allowed to examine their child’s records.
If they disagree with the school’s decisions, parents or guardians must be allowed to have an impartial hearing, with the opportunity to participate in the discussions. A review procedure must be made available to parents or guardians who disagree with the hearing decision.
Nonacademic Services and Activities
Students may not be excluded on the basis of disability from participating in extracurricular activities and nonacademic services. These may include counseling services, physical education and recreational athletics, transportation, health services, recreational activities, special interest groups or clubs sponsored by the school, referrals to agencies that provide assistance to students with disabilities, and student employment.
Discrimination in counseling practices is prohibited. Counselors must not advise qualified students with disabilities to make educational choices that lead to more restrictive career objectives than would be suggested for nondisabled students with similar interests and abilities.
What happens at the college level to student disability rights?
A 504b Plan can be carried on to a public university, unlike an IEP. At private schools and colleges, only the ADA requirements apply. The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities at work, at school, and in public accommodations, and is not limited (like Section 504) to those organizations and programs that receive federal funds. The ADA requires all schools, both public and private, to make reasonable accommodations for handicapped or disabled persons.
Section 504 Online Resources
www.wrightslaw.com/advoc/articles/504_IDEA_Rosenfeld.html - Section 504 and IDEA
http://www2.ed.gov/pubs/parents/Including/chapter3.html - Finding Services and Supports Under the Law
http://www.doe.mass.edu/sped/links/sec504.html - Section 504 and ADA
Title 1 (reading & math)
http://www2.ed.gov/programs/titleiparta/index.html - US Dept. of Education, Title 1 description