What is a 504 Plan?
A 504 plan is a written document that describes the services and accommodations needed by a student with a disability for accessing general education. This information helps teachers know about the student’s needs, and ways to support the student to be successful in learning. The plan should consider accommodations for the environment (where learning occurs), instruction (how learning happens), and how the curriculum is presented (what activities are used for learning).
The plan is developed by a team of people who are familiar with the student’s needs and may include the parent/ guardian, student, school counselor, general education teacher, school nurse, and a school administrator. The plan describes what the school will do to remove barriers to the student’s education.
A 504 plan is designed to remove barriers to accessing education for a student with a disability. To qualify, a student must have a disability, and the disability must be impacting the student’s learning or access to general education.
Section 504 covers qualified students with disabilities who attend schools receiving Federal financial assistance. To be protected under Section 504, a student must be determined to: (1) have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; or (2) have a record of such an impairment; or (3) be regarded as having such an impairment. Section 504 requires that school districts provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to qualified students in their jurisdictions who have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. (US Department of Education)
No, a diagnosis is not required, though any information your child’s doctor can provide about your child’s needs is helpful. To qualify for a 504 plan, your student must have, or be regarded as having, a disability that affects one or more major life areas.
Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, a disability must interfere with one or more major life activities. The Section 504 regulatory provision at 34 C.F.R. 104.3(j)(2)(i) defines a physical or mental impairment as any physiological disorder or condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or anatomical loss affecting one or more of the following body systems: neurological; musculoskeletal; special sense organs; respiratory, including speech organs; cardiovascular; reproductive; digestive; genito-urinary; hemic and lymphatic; skin; and endocrine; or any mental or psychological disorder, such as mental retardation, organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness, and specific learning disabilities. The regulatory provision does not set forth an exhaustive list of specific diseases and conditions that may constitute physical or mental impairments because of the difficulty of ensuring the comprehensiveness of such a list.
Major life activities, as defined in the Section 504 regulations at 34 C.F.R. 104.3(j)(2)(ii), include functions such as caring for one’s self, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working. This list is not exhaustive. Other functions can be major life activities for purposes of Section 504. In the Amendments Act (see FAQ 1), Congress provided additional examples of general activities that are major life activities, including eating, sleeping, standing, lifting, bending, reading, concentrating, thinking, and communicating. Congress also provided a non-exhaustive list of examples of “major bodily functions” that are major life activities, such as the functions of the immune system, normal cell growth, digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions. (US Department of Education)
Accommodations supports, and services are individualized, based on a student’s unique needs.
Here are some examples:
- A student with diabetes may have accommodations for using the bathroom at any time, permission to carry a water bottle and snacks, and access services from a nurse in a private location to test their blood sugar levels.
- A student with ADHD may have accommodations for additional time to complete assignments, a separate location for testing, support to complete a homework calendar, and a second copy of textbooks at home.
- A student with cerebral palsy may have accommodations and support for additional time to transition from one class to another, adapted PE activities, assistance to carry their lunch tray, shortened work assignments, and voice-to-text assistive technology for writing assignments.
- A student with anxiety may have accommodations for taking a break, additional time to complete assignments, preferential seating in classes, counseling services with the school mental health specialist, and support to take tests in a separate, quiet environment.
- It is important to note that 504 Plans are for supporting student access to general education and overcoming barriers caused by the student’s disability; they help a student learn and show what they know and can do.