If your child is struggling in school due to a learning disability, a 504 plan may be a good option for supporting your child’s 6-8 educational needs. Before you decide whether to pursue a 504 plan for your child, you'll need to learn about the similarities and differences between 504 plans and IEPs. You’ll also need to ask yourself, “Is a 504 Plan Right for My Child?” As you learn more about 504 plans, here are five key points to keep in mind:
- The 504 plan protects students who have a disability that substantially limits one or more major life activity. While the law (i.e., Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973) does not specifically mention learning disabilities, however, “major life activities” can include learning, reading, thinking, writing and concentrating. Section 504 has much broader definitions of disability and so it pertains to many more people. Do not assume that your child is not eligible for protection if he or she doesn’t meet the criteria for services under IDEA.
- The 504 plan outlines educational services to be provided to the student. The 504 plan should specifically lay out all of the accommodations and educational services that will be provided to your child. This is the case regardless of whether your child is in general education classes or receives special education instruction. It should be reviewed at least annually so it outlines what your child needs for the upcoming school year.
- There is no standard 504 plan—every student has different needs and should receive a different plan. Every student is entitled to receive accommodations and special education services that best fit their needs. This can include: computer/other technology, extended time or privacy for test taking, verbal or non-verbal cues, note-takers or other help. Do not let the school provide your child with a “vanilla package,” a set of accommodations the school says it gives to all students with a learning disability.
- A 504 plan may be a good option for your child, if your child is ineligible for services under IDEA. The IDEA law requires that your child must meet two prongs of the law in order to be served by special education: 1) The child must have one (or more) of the 13 disabilities listed in IDEA which includes learning disabilities and attention disorders; and, 2) as a result of the disability, the child needs special education to make progress in school in order to benefit from the general education program. This legal requirement essentially says that some kids with LD or attention disorders may not meet the state or district requirements of the second prong. These students however, because they have an LD or ADHD, may meet the requirement to have a 504 plan if their disability “substantially limits them in performing one or more major life activity.”
- A 504 plan is a good way to formalize accommodations if your child is already receiving them on an informal basis. Sometimes teachers will provide informal or “undocumented” accommodations, support or services to students as a way to shore up their daily learning. While their efforts may be genuine and may also be helpful to the child in the short-term, it is inappropriate for such informal accommodations to be provided for any length of time especially if the teacher or school suspects the child has a learning disability or attention disorder. You have the right to request an evaluation (in writing) and/or to discuss whether your child is eligible for services under IDEA and/or Section 504.