Special Needs: How Does Section 504 Work?

During a special education evaluation meeting for a student with a physical disability, a parent asked, "Isn't there a compromise solution for my child?" She didn't want to see her son go into the special education system in our district. She felt there must be something else we could do to provide support for her son in the classroom without applying a special education label. The answer, of course, is yes. The compromise comes in the form of Section 504 plans. 

Section 504 is a federal law created to prevent discrimination by protecting students with disabilities. Schools are required to give all children the same opportunities as students without disabilities in school. Opportunities can be provided as "reasonable accommodations or modifications."  

A reasonable accommodation can be:

  • a physical modification to the school that is needed for a child to enjoy full use of the school building, such as an elevator, a wheelchair ramp, handrails, motorized doors, etc.
  • a change in rules, policies, and procedures to allow access to parts of a school facility. A diabetic child might be given a special snack so he can share classroom break time with his peers, or allowing a hyperactive child special permission to stand up occasionally in the classroom.


These minor accommodations will prevent the need for elaborate IEP's and entry into the huge bureaucracy that is special education in our schools.


Are 504 plans available in all schools? If a school receives any kind of federal funding, it is required to provide reasonable accommodations in the form of 504 plans to all students. You can develop 504 plans as temporary adjustments to a classroom environment, perhaps for a student with a broken leg.

Typical examples of 504:

  • special seating in the classroom
  • time extensions on tests or assignments
  • less home or classwork
  • technology aids to augment audio or video
  • large print textbooks or headphones for audio materials
  • support for behavior management
  • adjustments to class scheduling
  • scheduled nurse's office visits
  • assigning temporary aides

The key is to map out accommodations in committee and put them in writing. In a litigious world, it's very important to document the process. A child must qualify for the 504 plan by having a physical or mental disability (even if temporary) that interferes with learning.

There are 3 definitions of disability for Section 504:

  • diagnosis of a physical or mental disability
  • an established record (or history) of a disability
  • no diagnosed disability, but the school is insisting on a plan

The disability must interfere with a child's ability to learn or to access all school programs.

The last example can be caused by what I call a "squeaky wheel parent". Parents who are well versed in the law can become very vocal when they think their child needs some extra help. A 504 Plan can be crafted that satisfies everyone, especially the child.

If you have students in your classroom who need accommodations, you can access resources for developing 504 Plans here:

                504 Law

                One Stop 504 Shop

                What Does a 504 Plan Look Like?

                504 Plans for ADHD - A Success Story

                Steps to 504 Plans - forms

                504 Plan Forms as Editable Word Documents

                504 Templates and Accommodation Ideas

Leave a message below and join in the conversation.Neva

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