What is a 504 Plan?
Before we begin discussing if a medical diagnosis is required for a 504 plan, let’s first define a 504 plan. tea.texas.gov defines a 504 plan as:
“Section 504 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs or activities that receive Federal financial assistance from the U.S. Department of Education.
So what does this mean for students then? Well students that qualify for a 504 plan, will receive accommodations in a classroom environment. The idea of the plan is the student is still in class with peers but receives accommodations that assist with them in the classroom setting.
What Are the 504 Plan Qualifications?
The 504 plan is put in place for students with several different diagnoses that affect learning. This includes:
- Attention and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
- Hearing Issues or Deafness
- Vision Impairment
This is just a brief list of diagnoses that can be evaluated to become qualified for a 504 plan. Each qualification looks into a variety of factors that we’ll later discuss in detail.
504 Vs. Special Education
A 504 plan is not apart of the special education program. A special education program, also known as an IEP is an individualized education program. This means the student is not in a traditional classroom environment and is in a separate classroom with different teachers. A 504 plan keeps the student in the classroom with their peers and instead opts to breakdown barriers within that classroom for the student. This allows the classroom to become more accessible for the student. Ultimately an IEP program is for students who need a more customized environment for their learning.
Is a Medical Diagnosis Required for a 504 Plan?
Yes, a diagnosis must be verified by the school to see that the student does indeed require special accommodations. This is a formal evaluation done by the school with each school and district having a different 504 evaluation policy. Schools will also factor in other information into the evaluation that include teacher recommendations, test scores, and grades.
The diagnosis is much broader than an IEP, so the team will look at a variety of factors relating to the student’s academic day. Teachers may be brought in as part of this process to give their valuable input as to what they think would help the student.
Types of Accommodations
While the 504 plan may not be as specialized as the IEP, it is still able to give various different types of accommodations. These accommodations are evaluated based on the medical diagnosis required for a 504 plan.
This could be things like:
- Extra time on tests
- Seating at the front of the classroom
- Tests read aloud
- Extra time on assignments
- Extended deadlines
- Modified textbooks (read loud)
IEP or 504 Plan?
While the process for a 504 plan involves a team assisting with the development of accommodations, an IEP is a more formal process. The individualized education goals that are present with creating an IEP require more planning and in general is a longer process. This is because the environment and purpose of an IEP is for more individualized cases with the student learning experience at school rather than accommodating the student like in the 504 plan.
Another point to highlight about an IEP is the additional services provided. Most 504 plans don’t account for the inclusion of outside services such as occupational therapy, speech therapy, etc. These services are more ingrained in the IEP for the student during the evaluation process. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the student of a 504 plan won’t be using these services. It just means that the school day does not account for these services during that time. Many students with 504 plans and accommodations can meet with these professionals outside of school hours.
How to Apply for a 504 Plan
The first and most important step is to collect documentation on your child’s legal disability. This is a requirement as part of a 504 plan. It’s also important to have on hand the student’s standardized test scores and report cards. These items are important as they will be needed by the team to assess and develop the student’s plan.
The second step is to meet with the school’s 504 coordinator. This is a representative in charge of the 504 plan evaluation. It’s common that this individual is also the one in charge of IEP coordination as well. It’s best to check with the school administrative staff for the right person’s contact information. This will be your primary point of contact for the 504 team.
The third step is to write a formal request to the person in charge of 504 accommodations. In this request, be sure to list all legal disabilities your student has, teacher/private recommendations, test scores, and report cards.
Once this request is approved the school will contact you about developing a 504 plan for your student. If the request is not approved the school must list the reasons why they did not approve it. If you disagree with their decision you can ask for a due process hearing.
It’s Different For Each School and District
Each school and district has a different way they process requests for 504 plans. It’s important to call the school for more specific information as they’ll have the right answers for each step. The article was aimed more to provide you with a generalized idea of what the process looks like. It’s important to obtain a medical diagnosis for a 504 plan prior to applying as it’s one of the main barriers of approval when submitting your request. Only public schools are required by law to allow the full range of 504 accommodations. Private schools do have to provide some accommodations, but since they are not federally funded, they are not required to make extensive accommodations. This is something to check with the private school about if looking or already attending.