What Is a 504 Plan and How to Determine if Your Child Needs One

A 504 plan can give a child the support they need to learn. Even if your child doesn’t qualify for specially designed instruction served in the special education classroom, a 504 plan can provide the accommodations they need to thrive in school. Each child’s 504 plan looks different based on needs. If it is determined that your child would benefit from a 504 plan, you can expect that the school will work directly with you to create an individualized plan to support your child.

If you think your child could benefit from a 504 plan, you can take some steps to make that happen. In this guide, I talk about what a 504 plan is, what you can find within the 504, and how you can determine if your child needs one. I go in-depth with how each step of the process works and how it can benefit your child as they learn and grow.

Inside a 504 Plan

  • What Is a 504 Plan and How Can It Help My Child?
  • What Can I Find in a 504 Plan?
  • How Is a 504 Plan Different from an IEP?
  • How Can My Child Get a 504 Plan?
  • 1. Document Your Child’s Disability
  • 2. Contact Your School’s 504 Plan Coordinator
  • 3. Follow the 504 Plan Evaluation Process
  • 4. Meet with the 504 Plan Coordinator
  • 5. Create a 504 Plan for Your Child
  • What’s Next?

What Is a 504 Plan and How Can It Help My Child?

A 504 plan allows a child accommodations they need to learn. Although a student with a  disability may not need specially designed instruction in special education, you may find that they could benefit from a 504 plan.

Around 2.3% of students across the US have 504 plans. Some schools have up to 30% of children with 504 plans. 

A 504 plan can make all the difference to a child’s learning. It can allow frequent breaks, staff check-ins, a checklist of required work tasks, or quiet places to complete work; the list of support is endless and geared toward individual needs. 

A 504 plan can contribute to a child feeling safe and supported at school as much as it can further their academic goals. The idea of a 504 plan is to break down the barriers between children who need additional support and their education.

If you’re a parent, you can help develop a 504 plan with your child’s school, if they qualify. If your child’s needs prevent them from participating in their learning without accommodations, it’s worth asking whether they might qualify for a 504 plan.

What Can I Find in a 504 Plan?

Your child’s 504 plan will vary based on their needs. However, it only includes accommodations to allow access to the learning environment. 

Some things you can find in a 504 plan include:

  • Extended time to complete tests or assignments
  • Preferential seating
  • Environmental accommodations
  • Scheduling modifications
  • Changing how information is presented (for example, verbal instructions vs. written ones)
  • Use of assistive technology

How Is a 504 Plan Different from an IEP?

A 504 plan and an IEP can overlap in terms of what they offer, but the way they do so is different. An IEP is part of a special education program and can involve more extensive accommodations and modifications. The IEP offers specially designed instruction in academic areas, as well as social emotional and behavioral needs. Specially designed instruction is delivered by a special education teacher in a separate classroom. 

There are also different requirements to qualify for a 504 plan and an IEP. If a child has an IEP, it means they have at least one of 13 disabilities outlined in the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA). 

According to OSPI, a student can qualify for a 504 plan if they have a physical or mental impairment that limits one or more major life activities, and needs accommodations because of their disability to access and benefit from their education. 

That can mean that if a child doesn’t qualify for an IEP, they may still be able to get a 504 plan. However, a 504 plan operates outside of special education programs. For example, your child won’t receive special education classes outside of the classroom like they might with an IEP. Both documents require a student’s disability to interfere with their ability to learn in a general classroom in order to qualify.

How Can My Child Get a 504 Plan?

If you think a 504 plan could help your child, check out the list below to see if they may qualify.

1. Document Your Child’s Disability

Similar to an IEP, your child must have a diagnosed and documented disability. If your child already has a diagnosis by a medical or mental health professional, you’ll need to get documentation of it to present to the school.

If your child does not yet have a diagnosis but you believe they are a candidate for a 504 plan, you should start with an evaluation to determine if there is a disability before moving forward.

Documentation means more than your child’s diagnosis. It can also include:

  • Private evaluations
  • Report cards
  • School assignments
  • Doctor’s notes
  • Medical records

These documents not only show your child’s diagnosis but how it impacts their learning. The more information you have regarding your child’s disability and how it impacts their learning, the better the school team can create a plan that is effective.

2. Contact Your School’s 504 Plan Coordinator

Once you have your documentation, find out who your child’s school’s 504 plan coordinator is. You can often find this information on the school website. If not, then contact the school’s administration to ask for the right person.

The school’s 504 plan coordinator may also be the IEP coordinator. When you contact them, let them know you’d like to start the process of getting your child a 504 plan.

From there, you’ll need to submit a formal, written request for a 504 plan. Make sure you say specifically why you believe your child needs this plan. That request should include telling the coordinator about your child’s disability and the types of accommodations they need to help them learn better in school. Along with an evaluation report you will find these accommodation recommendations at the end of the document, this is an easy way to share valuable information and recommendations with the coordinator. 

3. Follow the 504 Plan Evaluation Process

While a child might go through a more extensive evaluation process for an IEP, a 504 evaluation is usually less involved. The process typically involves reviewing the documentation you submit regarding your child’s disability and needs.

The school should also interview your child, as well as their teacher, to talk about their learning and how their disability impacts access to education. They may also want to observe your child to see their responses to different learning styles and environments. That way, they can determine what accommodations best fit your child to help them thrive in school.

4. Meet with the 504 Plan Coordinator

After the evaluation, the 504 coordinator should meet with you to discuss your child’s needs. At that point, they’ll tell you if a 504 plan is right for your child or if they may need different accommodations. If the school doesn’t offer this meeting, you can ask to set one up.

You can ask questions about your child’s 504 plan and the coordinator’s thoughts. You may also find it helpful to bring someone else to support you and help you advocate for your child during this meeting. During this meeting you will have an opportunity to go over accommodations that you think would benefit your child most.

If the 504 coordinator decides that your child does not qualify for a 504 plan, you can dispute it and work toward a resolution for your child. If you go this route, you should know the different ways you can resolve the dispute in the best interests of your child.

5. Create a 504 Plan for Your Child

If your child qualifies for a 504 plan, your child’s school will work with you to create a plan. That process should involve you, your child’s teacher, the 504 coordinator, and any other school staff designated to create an environment that accommodates your child’s learning needs.

You can find 504 plan templates online to help you get started. However, keep in mind that every child’s 504 plan is unique, so yours will still look different from others.

You can also talk with other professionals, like a therapist if your child has one. Having other opinions can help you make the best possible decisions for your child’s education.

What’s Next?

A 504 plan can change your child’s experience with school for the better. With the right accommodations, they can thrive in school and continue learning in a more supportive environment.

I hope this guide helped you on your way to understanding 504 plans and the process for getting one for your child. If you have questions or comments about how to get a 504 plan for your child, comment below. You can also send me an email directly. I’d love to hear from you!

About the author

Emily Cummings

I am a mom of two crazy, amazing, independent, little feminists. They bring so much light to my life and a lot less sleep. Since becoming a mother and increasingly in the last year, I have witnessed parents struggling to connect with their child's special education team with no success. I have become more aware of the gaps in our public school system and how parents may benefit from empowerment and advocacy tools.

My work experiences range from a juvenile detention center to an autism specialist in the Issaquah School District and a special education teacher in a self-contained program in the Lake Washington School District. My master's in teaching focused on special education and behavioral disorders from Seattle Pacific University. I completed my BCBA coursework from Montana State University.

Want to get in touch?

I'm happy to help however I can. Email me at hello at behaviorist .com.

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