by Tricia L. Chaves
From allergies to anxiety, many issues can interfere with academics, creating a need for special accommodations rather than special education. In public and federally-funded private schools, a 504 plan can ensure your child’s equal access to education when they aren’t eligible for services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
“A few other examples include kids who have ADHD, are diabetic, or orthopedically-impaired — things that don’t necessarily affect their education on a constant basis, but enough so that their teachers are aware that they must make accommodations for the student, such as enabling them to stand up during lessons, reducing assignment or test-taking times, or scheduling breaks for administering insulin,” says Lisa Curtis, a mom of triplets and an elementary special educator with the Cleveland Municipal School District, who has navigated the 504 plan process both as a professional and a parent of a hearing-impaired child.
Because the term “special needs” is so broadly defined, many children who don’t qualify for an Individualized Education Program (IEP) can obtain a 504 plan.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 promises “free appropriate public education” (FAPE) for every qualified student with a disability in the district’s jurisdiction, no matter the nature or severity of the disability. According to the U.S. Department of Education, the Section 504 regulation defines a person with a disability as “any person who has a documented or regarded physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities.”
Unlike an IEP, which requires modifications to the general education curriculum, a student with a 504 plan typically spends the duration of their school day in a general education classroom.
“My son is on a 504 plan because he has hearing loss. Does it affect his learning to the point that he requires special education? No,” Curtis says. “So he doesn’t need to be on an IEP,
but the 504 plan states his need for
assistive technology. A small adjustment —putting an FM system in the classroom — made a huge difference in his ability to participate in his lessons.”
Following an evaluation and approval from the school, an individu-
alized 504 plan should be created to include the following elements:
• A list of the specific accommodations, supports or services needed
• Names of the school professionals who will provide each service
• The name of the person responsible for ensuring implementation of the 504 plan
Parents must review and sign off on a 504 plan before it is implemented. Since the school is not required to provide regular updates, it’s important to monitor your child’s progress and make timely adjustments to the plan as needed. The 504 plan must be renewed annually.
If your child is on a 504 plan and it is not meeting your needs, reach out to your child’s teacher and the administrator responsible. According to Curtis, each school district has a lawyer and parent mentor who can be invaluable allies if things go awry.
“You are your child’s best advocate,” she says. “There are knowledgeable people you can reach out to that can help you work through the process, explain the differences between programs, and ensure your child has the help they need.”