Special Needs Support: 504 Plans

I had a fight with myself over this article. Should I write about 504 plans? They are really outside the special education arena. As long as I begin this article with a very specific statement about this, I think we'll be fine. And I like fighting with myself—I always win.

504 plans are for students who need support in the regular classroom without the need for an IEP. With a little applied assistance in one or two places, some students will flourish outside of the special education system.

Taken directly from Greatschools via a Google search for 504 Plans: 

"Section 504 is a part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that prohibits discrimination based upon disability. Section 504 is an anti-discrimination, civil rights statute that requires meeting the needs of students with disabilities as adequately as meeting the needs of the non-disabled."

A 504 plan specifically outlines how to meet a child’s needs. There are accommodations, modifications and other services similar to assignments in an IEP. This removes barriers to learning.

That is the official purpose of 504. The reality is more complex. If an appropriately written 504 plan is in place for students with mild difficulties, a SPED referral will not need to follow. We are all interested in reducing expensive SPED referrals, and a 504 gives us a way to do that while providing students some help in the classroom.

We can look at preparing a student's 504 as a pre-referral strategy. RTI (Response to Intervention) is a formal approach to providing targeted help in the classroom for students who need it. Once a student is identified as needing extra help, intervention strategies are developed to target that need and to keep detailed records of the interventions.

How does a 504 emerge as a solution to a problem? The school provides an evaluation to decide if a child’s disability substantially limits his or her ability to learn and participate in the classroom. Either the parent or the school can initiate this evaluation. Parents must be notified if the school orders the evaluation, and their consent must be received.

An evaluation is ordered and a plan is drafted. A 504 plan should include the following elements to meet a child’s individual needs:

  • Specific accommodations, supports or services
  • Names of the school professionals that provide each service
  • Name of the person(s) responsible for implementing the 504

A 504 is less detailed than an IEP. It can include special instruction in the regular classroom. It can also provide related services such as speech, occupational therapy or counseling.

A team (committee) is assembled to draft the 504, members might include:

  • The classroom teacher(s)
  • A special education teacher
  • The school principal
  • Parent(s)

Sometimes the child is invited depending on their age and maturity.

A plan is developed and signed by the relevant parties. The committee should reevaluate the plan every year. In some districts, the 504 will be accompanied by a detailed RTI curriculum plan. This depends on district adoption of the RTI program. It's becoming more accepted as a series of strategies to handle behavior problems, one of the main reasons for 504 referrals. It's useful to know that some simple classroom and testing accommodations may be all that's needed to meet a student's needs.

To read more about 504 plans and how they fit into the special education management system in your school or district, check out these resources.

Let me know how you're doing, and how you're solving the everyday issues that arise in your classroom.


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