You’ve been told that your child does not qualify for special education, but you think he needs some extra help in order to have his educational needs met. What can you do? Request a 504-Plan hearing at your child’s school.
What is a 504 Plan?
A 504 plan is a legal, binding document that began with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which protects the civil and constitutional rights of people with disabilities. It prohibits organizations that receive federal funding from discriminating against otherwise qualified individuals on the sole basis of a handicap. All public schools receive federal funds.
Section 504 does not require that special education programming is developed for students with disabilities, however, it does require schools to make appropriate academic adjustments and reasonable modifications to policies and practices to allow for full participation of special needs students.
“Section 504 became the law of the land, with no money attachments,” says Nancy Day Diehl, executive director of Support and Training for Exceptional Parents (STEP) in Tennessee. “This was a civil law — that you had to do comparable, similar things for kids with disabilities. Not only allowing access but changing things so access is available, such as methods of teaching.”
Who is Eligible?
The objective of a 504 Plan is to help students with special physical, mental and psychological needs feel comfortable with the regular learning environment. Each child is guaranteed a Free and Appropriate Education (FAPE), or an education comparable to that provided to nonhandicapped students. A child is eligible if he has a “handicap” — a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities — or if he has a record of such an impairment or is regarded as having such an impairment, whether permanent or temporary.
Major life activities include caring for one’s self, performing manual tasks, breathing, seeing, speaking, hearing, walking, working and learning. A student is not required to be in need of special education in order to be included under Section 504. Perhaps your child is overweight. A 504 Plan accommodation might arrange for a special desk and chair in each room for him to fit into. Many hidden disabilities — like seizures, diabetes and high blood pressure — are also covered.
What About my ADD/ADHD Child?
In order for a school to consider accommodating your child with ADD/ADHD, he must have been evaluated by a neurologist who certifies that your child actually does have this problem. Without the doctor’s diagnosis, the school’s hands are tied. The 504 Plan is a valuable resource because it will allow your child to bring home an extra set of books, give him preferred seating to eliminate distractions and alert his teachers to remind him to stay on task. Although accommodations have been made for ADD/ADHD students, however, success is not guaranteed because the child must choose to cooperate with the program.
Is it permanent?
No. Some 504 Plans are temporary. “If the child has a temporary disability as a result of a car accident or an illness, a 504 plan can provide for temporary relief,” says Dr. Gerri Hausman, the district 504 coordinator for Williamson County schools. In such a case, a professional must certify that the child is temporarily disabled.
The first step is to contact your school’s counseling department and fill out the referral form. Next, a meeting is scheduled between you and your child’s teachers, counselors, principal, support staff (nurse, speech therapist or otherwise) and your child. “If the child is in middle school or older, we include him. We always try to encourage student participation as we are discussing their education,” Hausman says.
A 504 Plan listing the special accommodations is developed. When everyone agrees upon the terms, the document is signed and sent to all of your child’s teachers, who are legally bound to provide for the accommodations. Under Section 504, school districts must designate an employee, such as Hausman, to be responsible for assuring compliance.
Types of Accommodations
Section 504 guarantees “reasonable accommodation” to the student’s limitations unless the school can demonstrate that the accommodation would cause an undue hardship on the school. The goal of the 504 Plan is “normative behavior” and the success of the accomodations would be determined by how close the student gets to achieving normative behavior. Consequently, the setting should be as normal as possible.
Depending on the type and severity of your child’s disability, the school may consider any of the following options and can even make up new accommodations to fit the needs of the student.
- Extended time for testing.
- Provision of taped textbooks.
- Extra time for moving between classes.
- Use of a journal for communication between student, counselor and parents.
- Special transportation to school and field trips.
- Use of available technology in a regular classroom.
- Provision of a teacher’s aide.
- Allowance for health-related absences.
- Assignment sheets to be signed daily by teachers, students and parents.
Does it Cost?
Not directly. Just as your taxes pay for new textbooks or desks, they pay for any special accommodations. You shouldn’t have to pay to have your child’s 504 Plan needs met. Some federal grant money is also available for meeting the needs of 504 Plan students.
Section 504 is enforced by the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) under the guidelines of the Department of Education.
IDEA or 504?
You may have heard the term “IDEA” (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) mentioned in regards to your child’s educational needs. “Congress passed IDEA (originally the Education for all Handicapped Children Act) saying that if you comply with these particular guidelines in Section 504, we’ll give you money,” says Diehl. “Section 504 and IDEA are very similar laws. With IDEA, there are funds and it’s prescriptive — technical assistance on how to do it, training for teachers, training for parents. IDEA has several parts: the rationale that exists behind it and the part that addresses appropriation.”
Whether you opt to seek help under IDEA or Section 504 depends upon your child’s handicap. IDEA spells out specific handicaps; Section 504 has a broader implication. Section 504 is sometimes mistakenly seen as a “catch all” for kids who don’t fit in under IDEA, but in fact Section 504 came first and IDEA followed. IDEA is only one method of compliance with Section 504 — one which provides funding to the schools. Consequently schools are familiar with it. “IDEA was Congress’ way of ‘throwing’ money at 504 to allow it to be enacted swiftly and affordably,” says Diehl. “504 is an antidiscrimination law that applies to anything that gets a federal dollar.”
E. Renee Heiss is a high school teacher and parent of an ADD child.
SPECIFIC AREAS OF DISABILITY COVERED UNDER IDEA
- Mental retardation
- Hearing impairment, including deafness
- Speech or language impairment
- Visual impairment, including blindness
- Emotional disturbance
- Orthopedic impairment
- Traumatic brain injury
- Other health impairment
- Specific learning disability
- Multiple disability
- A child ages 3 – 9 with developmental delays, as defined by the state and measured by appropriate diagnostic instruments and procedures in one or more of the following areas: physical development, cognitive development, communication development, social or emotional development and adaptive development.
- Attention Deficit Disorder/Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder: ADD/ADHD was not listed as a separate category in the IDEA statute since the Department of Education stated that it is covered under the Ã’Other Health ImpairedÃ“ category in instances where the ADD is a chronic or acute health problem that results in limited alertness, adversely affecting educational performance.