Named after Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 504 plans are formal plans that schools develop to give kids with disabilities the support they need. A 504 plan covers any condition that limits daily activities—including learning—in a major way.
If you’re considering requesting a 504 plan for your child, here are the answers to the questions you need to know:
How should I initiate the conversation with the School?
Because your child must have a legal disability to qualify for a 504 plan, you’ll want to put together documentation of their needs before you reach out to the school.
Start by gathering any documents about your child’s needs, like any records of a medical, psychological, or psycho-educational diagnosis. Other things to gather are schoolwork, report cards, and private evaluations if you’ve had them done.
Once you have your documentation together, email a formal request to the school’s 504 coordinator. (Check the school website for the coordinator’s name and contact information. If you can’t find it, ask the Principal.) Your request should contain:
Your child’s name, grade, school, and teacher’s name if applicable
A clear statement that you’re writing to request a 504 plan
A brief explanation of the condition your child has that impedes their learning
A brief explanation of relevant history and facts that support your concerns. For example, you might say that your child’s schoolwork has been getting worse throughout the year. That fact is relevant. Something from your child’s infancy probably isn’t.
A clear statement of what accommodations, interventions, or services you would like the school to provide
A clear statement that you want to be part of any meetings where your child’s needs will be discussed.
Your contact information for a response
Here is a template you can use to put together this request.
The 504 coordinator should respond right away. However, you can keep things on track by following up by email or phone after a few days.
Is a Diagnosis needed?
A medical diagnosis can help make the case that a student qualifies for a 504, but is not required under Section 504 (the law that provides 504 plans). Section 504 does require a child to have an evaluation before receiving a 504 Plan. An evaluation does not have to include formalized testing, but it must consider information from a variety of sources (parent notes, doctors’ notes if available, test scores, teachers’ observations, etc.).
What will School Officials do once they receive the request?
The law says that a 504 plan must provide an eligible child with an equal opportunity to succeed based on the child’s individual needs when compared to same-age, non-disabled peers. So, school officials will consider the student’s disability and common accommodations and evidence-based interventions that may alleviate the learning hardship caused by the condition. They will also consider any specific policies the school has in place about administering 504 plans, and what is feasible for their teachers to implement.
What should I expect from this Process?
Parents should expect that they’ll need to advocate for a plan tailored to their child’s unique needs. Like many workplaces, schools will often try to write 504 plans in a way that is easy and efficient to implement. For example, some schools try to create standard 504 plans for all students with a certain learning difference, like ADHD. While that may be helpful for saving the time and energy of the school staff, it can result in a plan that doesn’t meet your child’s needs. They should also expect to push to make sure the language in the plan is as specific as possible. The more specific the 504 plan is, the less chance there is for misunderstanding.
In addition, parents should expect to check in with their child’s teachers personally to be sure that the 504 plan is being implemented properly. All of the teachers should be notified that your child has a 504 plan by the school. However, they may not be directly given a copy of the plan. Additionally, teachers are extremely busy and have a lot on their plates. It is easy for things to fall off their radar. You’ll do your child and their teachers a favor by sending them an email from time to time to see how the plan is working and how your child is doing in class.
What should I look for in a successful 504?
A successful 504 plan will not be a standard checklist or form used for all eligible children in the school district. While a form or checklist may be a helpful starting point, a good 504 Plan is developed to meet the child’s specific, individual needs. Parents will want to be sure that every accommodation, modification, or intervention on the plan specifically addresses a difficulty that the student has due to their disabling condition and that every difficulty is addressed by at least one accommodation.
Are there things that should always be included?
There are no set rules for what a 504 plan should look like, or what it should include. In fact, there isn’t even a requirement that the plan is written down! Additionally, the law does not require that parents be involved in the process of creating a 504 plan. Even so, most schools do use a written form for a 504 plan and most include parents in the 504 process. These written plans should include a list of your child’s specific accommodations, modifications, services, and/or interventions. If your child does end up with a written plan, make sure to ask the school’s 504 coordinator to provide you with a copy.
1.) If you’re going to your child’s 504 plan meeting, make sure you’re prepared and ready to participate. It can help to create your own unofficial written 504 plan to take with you with the accommodations, modifications, services, and/or interventions you want to be included in the plan. That way you can make sure all the right elements go into the official plan from the school.
2.) Explore everything that’s possible within a 504 plan, and don’t be surprised if some staff aren’t aware of all that can be offered. Schools sometimes skim over the details of what a 504 plan can include. They are not likely to explain all of the types of accommodations, modifications, and services that may be options.
3.) Add teacher and staff names to the plan. Assigning things to specific people makes it clear who’s responsible for what. Any time you think the plan isn’t being followed, you’ll know who to talk to. And be sure to keep a copy of the 504 plan.
4.) Be sure to keep your own copy of the 504 plan for reference throughout the school year. Make notes about what’s working and what’s not.
5.) Check in with your child’s teachers regularly and make sure the 504 plan is reviewed by the school annually. Then make sure that anything you and your child’s teachers have learned about what could be working better is taken into account.
Founder & Principal Academic Coach
Laura Fragomeni, Ed.M
Laura Fragomeni is a Harvard-educated master academic coach and the founder of School Without Suffering, an academic coaching practice specializing in helping struggling students around the world be happy and successful.