As a teacher, new legislation is passed regarding students with disabilities.  IEP, SPED, 504, RTI and other multiple initial programs bombard the education process daily.  For students with disabilities, both physical and mental, a 504 Plan can significantly increase a student’s education experience.

According to Great Schools, an online organization to help parents stay involved in their child’s education,

Section 504 states that: “No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States, as defined in section 706(8) of this title, shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance…” [29 U.S.C. §794(a), 34 C.F.R. §104.4(a)].

Section 504 is a part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that prohibits discrimination based upon disability. Section 504 is an anti-discrimination, civil rights statute that requires the needs of students with disabilities to be met as adequately as the needs of the non-disabled are met.

504’s are for persons with a medical condition that potentially decreases that individual’s ability to perform in both education and the work sector.  From an education standpoint, having a plan in place allows students equal access to not just the curriculum, but physically around the school.  Students with physical disabilities may need preferential seating or to get up and move around during the course of the class period.  They may need unlimited access to the restroom or nurse.  The Plan could dictate where a student’s classes are in proximity to other places in the school—lunchroom, gym, other classrooms, etc.  Some individuals may need extended time on tasks or tests or a differentiation of how the material is presented in order to process it correctly.  A 504 Plan allows students just this.

Unlike an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) under the Special Education Department, 504 Plans do not modify curriculum instruction.  Both plans can follow a student to college (or secondary education), though a 504 Plan seems, at least currently, to provide more substantial accommodations at the high education level.  Both programs are meant to provide services to students – Special Education services seem reserved for severe learning disabilities while 504 Plans focus on medical/physical issues that inhibit a student’s education process.

It is your (or your student’s) right to satisfactory education conditions.  If you are curious about a 504 Plan (and having your child evaluated), contact your school’s counselor.  They can start the initial evaluation process.  Once your child is evaluated and is considered eligible, a meeting will be held with a committee from the school made up of you, the student, teachers, the counselor, and any other person assigned by the school.  This committee will sit down and determine the particular accommodations necessary for your student’s individual needs.  After this plan is put into place, it is legally binding and the school is required by law to make sure that your student’s needs are being met.

The law says that everyone deserves equal access. It is your right.  The most important thing to remember when dealing with public education is that you are your own (or your child’s) best advocate.  If you aren’t willing to advocate for your needs, who will?

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