Understanding a 504 Plan

504 Plan Basics

In the last post I discussed IEP Basics. IEPs are comprehensive plans for students diagnosed with a specific disability. Many parents wonder what the difference is between and IEP and Section 504 Accommodations. The difference can be confusing. This post will hopefully clarify the differences and help you decide which to pursue.

What are 504 Accommodations?

Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, individuals are protected under federal law from discrimination related to a disability. Unlike an IEP, 504 is not specific to school. However, for the sake of this post, Section 504 pertains to students diagnosed with a learning disability or other educational-impacting difficulty. These students are entitled to fair treatment in school, hence the term “accommodation,” based on their diagnosed disability. 504 accommodations are a service, not a plan.

504 accommodations are not nearly as comprehensive as an IEP. Services typically include:

  • Extended time on exams
  • Reduced-distraction environment
  • Copy of class notes
  • Use of a word processor for in-class writing
  • Use of a calculator
  • Shortened assignments (modifications)
  • Tests and quizzes administered orally

Who Qualifies for 504 Accommodations?

Students who are diagnosed with a specific disability that inhibits their ability to perform in the general education classroom typically qualify for 504 accommodations. Diagnoses for 504 are more broadly defined than in an IEP.

How Does the Process Work?

The process for 504 accommodations is not nearly as involved and comprehensive as an IEP. Students must have an evaluation that identifies their disability. This evaluation can be part of an IEP or can be conducted by an outside evaluator such as a psychologist. The school may also request an evaluation of a child if it suspects that child may have a disability.

Once the evaluation is conducted, parents will meet with the appropriate school representatives to discuss the results. This will usually include the school psychologist or counselor, the student’s teachers, and often times the school principal. Everyone will discuss options for accommodations, focusing on those that will help the student meet his or her needs in the general education classroom. A final decision on the student’s accommodations should be written in the student’s plan and clearly communicated to all teachers.

How Are Accommodations Given?

Unlike an IEP, a student must be proactive in using his or her 504 accommodations. Teachers are encouraged to help students with the process, but ultimately the student must self advocate. Setting up accommodations can require time and resources, so students must plan accordingly to receive their extra time, quiet testing environment, etc. If a student has issues with receiving accommodations, he or she should contact the school counselor.

What Is the Key Difference Between 504 and IEP?

An IEP is a comprehensive plan to assist students in a special education setting. The plan is highly involved and requires the student to attend classes outside of the general education ones.

504 accommodations are designed to help students in the general education setting so they have equal access to learning and extra-curricular activities. 504 is meant to “level the playing field” by providing in-class accommodations.

What Should My Student Do?

For both an IEP and 504 an evaluation is the first step. Once the evaluation is complete, you will have a better understanding of which is right for your student. Due to budget issues, schools are more inclined to offer 504 accommodations, which cost very little. And quite frankly, most students in these situations will not need an IEP. Understanding the differences between an IEP and 504, however, will help you make the best decision when it’s time to meet with the school.

Just make sure that you have all the information you need before you go to your meeting. Advocate for your child, and don’t be afraid to voice your concerns.