504 Plan — The Basics
If your child is having trouble learning in a general education setting due to a disability or other physical, sensory, or cognitive challenge, you’re likely looking for resources to help your child succeed in school. But if your child has been found ineligible for special education in New Jersey, you’re not out of options. A 504 plan could be possible for your child.
Federal law gives all children the right to a free and appropriate public education. A 504 plan brings parents, teachers, and school administrators together to identify a student’s learning challenges and create accommodations to remove or reduce barriers to learning. These plans are intended to “level the playing field” so that the child can learn alongside his or her peers in the least restrictive environment.
All public and publicly-funded schools are required to offer 504 plans to eligible students. But if your child has a 504 plan and is not being accommodated according to its specifications, a strong special education lawyer can step in and make sure that your child’s rights are being enforced.
Turn to Susan Clark Law Group LLC. Our NJ special needs attorneys will fight for your child to receive the best possible educational services according to New Jersey law. Call or contact us today to discuss your legal options in a free consultation.
What Is Section 504?
Section 504 is a provision of the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Compliance with Section 504 is overseen by the Office for Civil Rights and is mandatory for all public schools and publicly-funded private schools.
Section 504 is intended to help parents of students and educators work together to develop customized education plans so that students with physical, mental, and other impairments are treated fairly at school.
To qualify, a student’s impairment must substantially disrupt at least one “major life activity.” Section 504 does not list out qualifying impairments by name. Examples of challenges that may qualify a student to receive a 504 plan include:
- Physical impairments, such as difficulty walking, breathing, eating, standing, bending, lifting, working, or sleeping
- Sensory impairments, including vision, hearing, speech difficulties or challenges with processing or understanding others’ communication
- Cognitive difficulties, including trouble with reading, learning, thinking, or concentrating
Section 504 plans are often confused with Individualized Education Programs, or IEPs. The two programs both work to address educational difficulties. However, they are authorized by different federal laws. In addition, an IEP is only for students who qualify for special education services. Students with recognized disabilities, but who do not require special education, can have their needs addressed in a 504 plan.
Many times, students are denied IEPs and approved for 504 plans instead. While the 504 plan does help students gain the accommodations they need, it’s important to understand that students with a 504 plan have fewer legal safeguards compared to ones with IEPs.
What Is In a 504 Plan?
A 504 plan is an agreed-upon set of modifications and accommodations that are designed to help students learn with their peers. Once a child has a 504 plan, the school district must adhere to it.
To qualify, a student must be identified with an impairment that substantially affects a major life activity. A student with a peanut allergy could qualify for a 504. So could a child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or a student with an anxiety disorder.
The law does not mandate what a 504 plan must look like or what it must include. Schools are only required to have written policies with respect to 504 plans.
Examples of accommodations in 504 plans might include:
- Accommodations to environment, such as being able to take tests in quiet spaces, being given extended time to take tests, or the ability to leave the classroom for short breaks
- Instructional modifications, like having teachers frequently check in with a student to ensure understanding of key concepts, or in certain circumstances, being offered study skills or speech-language instruction
- Accommodations in curriculum presentation, such as being provided with outlines of lessons ahead of time or allowing a student to record lessons rather than take notes
Accommodations outlined in a 504 plan are intended to address a student’s specific challenges. For example, a student with ADHD may be given a seat in the front of the classroom to help them avoid being easily distracted, or a student with vision problems may be given testing materials in larger print.
Occasionally, a 504 plan can modify a student’s instruction, which changes what a student is taught and expected to learn. A modification can involve a student being given fewer or different homework assignments, or having their work graded in a different way compared to classmates.
The primary goal of a 504 plan is to provide accommodations in how students are presented with subject matter, not changing the content of the material itself. The plan is simply designed to remove a student’s barriers to learning that information.
How to Get a 504 Plan
Generally speaking, a family can more easily obtain a 504 plan as compared to an IEP. A family or a school may request a 504 evaluation for a student through the school’s or school district’s 504 coordinator. Any request must be provided in writing.
If initiated by the school district, parents must consent to the evaluation. Parents can also provide input into the evaluation, as well as bring therapists, a special education lawyer, or other advocates to represent their interests during the process. The school and the coordinator will schedule a meeting to determine whether a student qualifies for a 504 plan and what accommodations or modifications may be appropriate for the student.
In deciding whether to offer a 504 plan and what provisions to include, the school and the 504 coordinator will consider various sources of information about the student’s difficulties and learning experiences, such as medical diagnoses, the student’s grades and test scores, and teacher recommendations for accommodations to improve the student’s learning experience.
Once a student is approved for a 504 plan, the school will typically schedule an annual review with the student’s family, their teachers, and the 504 coordinator to review whether the accommodations provided by the plan are appropriate and up-to-date. The student’s family, teacher, or school may call for a 504 plan review at any time when educational concerns arise or when there has been a change in the student’s needs.
A 504 plan can also be terminated if it is determined that the student is no longer disabled, no longer requires services to meet the identified needs, or can otherwise be appropriately instructed in general education.
504 Plans vs. Individualized Educational Programs (IEPs)
Section 504 plans and IEPs are both plans that offer formal help to students who experience difficulties learning in general education. Although both programs are intended to help students with difficulties, there are significant differences between them.
A 504 Plan is:
- For students who do not qualify for New Jersey special education services
- Governed under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
- Provided at no cost to families, though any independent educational evaluations (IEEs) must be paid for by the family
- Only allowed with consent by a child’s parents or legal guardians
- Not disability-specific, as long as the child has an impairment that substantially limits at least one major life activity and his or her ability to learn
- Reviewed annually or more frequently, as needed
An IEP is:
- For students who require special education services
- Governed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
- For students with one or more of 13 disabilities listed in IDEA, if those disability(s) affect their educational performance or ability to perform in a general education classroom
- Free for families, including all independent educational evaluations (IEEs)
- Only permitted with family consent
- Reviewed annually, or more frequently as needed
- Required to have specific individuals sit on an IEP team and requires that all team members be present at any meetings
- Written and reviewed annually
If a student’s family has a dispute over an IEP or 504 plan, parents may request a due process hearing. Both the parents and the school district will participate in the hearing.
It’s a good idea to consult with an experienced New Jersey special education lawyer before initiating any disputes with a school district on your own. Students with disabilities cannot be discriminated against, and a lawyer can help you file a complaint with the Office of Special Education Programs. An attorney can help parents resolve these disputes through mediation or, if necessary, by filing a lawsuit against the school district.
How Can Susan Clark Law Group LLC Help Me?
If you believe that your child may be entitled to a 504 plan or that your school is not complying with the modifications in an existing plan, you have the right to take action. Talk to a New Jersey special education attorney at Susan Clark Law Group LLC today. We can represent you in due process hearings and in all negotiations with the school or school district.
Started by two mothers who have had children of their own in the New Jersey special education system, the attorneys of Susan Clark Law Group LLC bring empathy, experience and dedication to their work representing children and their families of all ages. Our firm is uniquely positioned to help you, with both trial attorneys and a former school superintendent on our team to help fight for the best possible outcome for your child.
Many times, parents tell us that they are afraid to seek legal help for fear that the schools will retaliate against or resent their child. You should never feel this way. You should also know that many disputes can be resolved without intense legal proceedings. An attorney can serve as a strong backup for you, letting the school district know that you won’t be taken advantage of.
With over 100 years of collective experience, the legal team at Susan Clark Law Group LLC have the knowledge, skills, and resources to protect your child’s rights with a firm but diplomatic approach. We back up advocacy on your behalf with legal muscle. We will leave no stone unturned in to help your child get the 504 plan that he or she needs and deserves.
If you believe your child may be eligible for a 504 plan, or if you are in a dispute with your child’s school over his or her 504 plan, call or contact Susan Clark Law Group LLC to schedule a free, no-obligation case evaluation today.