A 504 plan can help teachers, parents, and students work together to understand what a student with a disability needs to succeed in school.
What Is a 504 Plan?
A 504 plan is a way for schools to provide support for students with a disability so that they can learn in a regular classroom.
The name 504 plan comes from Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. This law prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in programs or activities that receive federal funding (such as public schools or publicly funded private schools). This ensures that students with disabilities can get a free education that works for them.
Who Can Get a 504 Plan?
Students are eligible for 504 plans if they have a disability that limits daily life activities such as self-care, walking, seeing, breathing, hearing, speaking, or learning.
Students who need a 504 plan can include those with:
A student returning to school after a serious illness or injury also might get a 504 plan.
How Is a 504 Plan Made?
First, a parent, teacher or other school staff member, health care provider, or therapist asks the school to evaluate the student for a 504 plan. Every school handles 504 plans a little differently, but most have a 504 team that may include the principal, teachers, school nurse, guidance counselor, and psychologist. The team looks at a child’s grades, test scores, medical records, and what teachers report about the student to decide if the student is eligible for a 504 plan.
If the 504 team decides that a student is eligible, they work with the parents to decide what kind of supports (called accommodations) the student needs to succeed. These are listed in the 504 plan.
What Does a 504 Plan Include?
The 504 plan is based on each student's needs and strengths. Accommodations can include:
- sitting in a certain place or with a certain desk or chair in the classroom
- extra time on tests and assignments
- use of speech-to-text (dictation) for writing
- modified textbooks (such as one that can be read aloud to the student)
- adjusted class schedules
- verbal (out loud) testing
- allowing visits to the nurse's office
- occupational therapy or physical therapy
Many other accommodations are available. If a parent asks for one that the school can’t provide, the school might offer another one that would help. Most accommodations in 504 plans don’t change what the student learns — rather, they remove barriers to learning.
The 504 plan should be reviewed at least yearly to make sure the accommodations are up to date and work for the student's needs.
How Do 504 Plans and Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) Differ?
The main difference is that:
- A 504 plan provides accommodations so a student can learn in a regular classroom.
- An IEP is a plan for specialized learning (for example, for dyslexia) or special education. 504 plans don’t usually change what the child learns but IEPs can.
Other differences include:
- Teachers put most 504 plans into practice while IEPs often involve other school staff (such as learning specialists).
- Parents are an important part of a 504 plan but aren’t required to be involved in making or changing it. Parents must be involved in making and changing IEPs.
- Eligibility varies. For example, a child who doesn’t need special education is not necessarily eligible for an IEP but might need a 504 plan.
- Some students have both a 504 plan and an IEP. For example, a student with autism spectrum disorder may have an IEP for learning supports and a 504 plan for occupational therapy.
Do 504 Plans End?
A 504 plan can end if the school’s 504 team thinks that the student:
- is no longer disabled
- no longer needs any special accommodations or services to learn at school
How Can Teachers Help?
Teachers are central to a student’s education and can help those with a 504 plan succeed by:
- knowing what is in the 504 plan
- using the accommodations in the classroom
- documenting (keeping a written record of) how the child is doing with the accommodations and how often they use them
- talking regularly with the parents and the 504 team about the student’s progress and challenges
If a teacher has trouble using an accommodation or thinks others would be better, they can talk to the school’s 504 team.