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Is a 504 Plan Right for My Child?

advocacy-for-children-mother-childWhen you are making a decision about how to seek support for your child at school it’s important to know your options to request help under the federal law. There are two laws for K-12 students in public school that may offer supports and services: the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Schools that receive federal funding are obligated to serve students under Section 504; however, no federal funds are provided to directly support offering Section 504 services.

This article focuses on whether seeking a 504 plan might be the right solution to helping your child be successful in school. 504 plans are developed by school teams and parents to support the educational needs of a K–12 student with a disability that “substantially limits one or more major life activity” such as: learning, speaking, listening, reading, writing, concentrating, caring for oneself, etc. A 504 plan is a good option for a K–12 student if:

  • The child has an identified learning disability (LD) or Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) but does not meet the requirements of IDEA for special education services and supports
  • The child is currently receiving informal accommodations or ongoing support at school

504 Option: When Your Child Does Not Meet the Requirements of 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 ADHD may not meet the state or district requirements of the second prong. While the student may have a disability, it may not be impacting their learning in ways that qualify them for special education services. 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.”

Effective January 2009, eligibility for protection under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act became broader. Some students who did not qualify in the past may now qualify for Section 504 plans. Students with Section 504 plans may now qualify for additional supports, services, auxiliary aids and/or accommodations in public schools disabilities.

Case Study: A Child With Dyslexia and Dysgraphia

Michael has been formally identified with dyslexia and dysgraphia and is in the third grade. He is struggling to read and write on grade level. However, in order to receive special education services under IDEA, the school district requires that Michael must 1) have LD and 2) be at least 1.5 to 2 grade levels behind in school. Although Michael has two diagnosed LDs, he is only functioning .5 grade levels behind his third grade peers and therefore does not meet the school district’s requirements.

Michael’s parents and the school know that letting him fall further behind—just to qualify for special education services under IDEA—is not a practical plan for ensuring his success in school. So, because Michael has identified disabilities that “substantially limit” the major life activities of reading and writing, they write a 504 plan that gives him several important supports and accommodations throughout the school day and during test taking. These supports are:

  • providing a computer for all writing assignments and test taking
  • dividing reading and writing assignments into smaller parts
  • providing a note-taker when class notes or daily planning demand writing for a prolonged period
  • reading test items aloud (when reading skill isn’t being tested)
  • giving extra time to read during class and test taking

Because the 504 plan must be reviewed at least once per year to ensure it’s working, Michael’s parents can partner with the school to monitor his progress. If he continues to fall behind, their options include:

  • revising the 504 plan
  • adding special education services (although rare, this is allowed under 504 law)
  • re-evaluating for IDEA eligibility
  • hiring outside educational support (e.g., tutor)
  • seeking professional advocacy support

Note: Michael’s parents do have some legal rights under Section 504, although different than those offered under IDEA.

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