What is a 504?
504 refers to Section 504 of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits students with disabilities from being denied access to education.
According to the Office of Civil Rights, “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. 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.”
Differences between a 504 plan and an IEP
The major difference between a 504 plan and an IEP is that, while an IEP might include specialized instruction and services for a particular student, a 504 plan only includes accommodations that allow the student in question to access the instruction that is already available in general education.
These accommodations can be a broad range of things. They can be as simple as allowing a student to carry a weighted blanket with them to classes or use noise-cancelling headphones, or they can be more intensive, like periodic breaks or check ins with support staff, or tests given in a distraction-free environment. Accommodations can also include things like allowing the student to use a graphic organizing tool when completing writing assignments, or using assistive technology (like talk to text) to communicate or complete certain assignments.
Another big difference is that a 504 plan is not required to be a written document. It is best practice for the plan to be a written document so that all staff supporting the student can review the accommodations listed, but the law does not require that. There are not specific forms that must be filled out to complete the 504 plan if it will be written. Additionally, the law does not actually require a parent to be invited to be a part of developing a 504 plan, although it is certainly best practice for the parent to be invited.
Is a 504 plan right for me?
If your child is primarily able to absorb and understand what they are being taught at school but are having trouble making it to class, staying in class, or being removed from class due to an aspect of a disability, then a 504 plan might be the best option. It is not the best option if you feel like your child needs instruction given in a different way or on different topics than what takes place in the general education classroom.
Here are some additional resources exploring the differences between IEPs and 504 plans and providing additional information about 504 plans: