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504 Plans

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A 504 Plan is a tool that provides accommodations and supports to students with disabilities within the general education setting. Unlike Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), which are designed under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) for students who require special education services, 504 Plans are developed under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This federal law is designed to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities in programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance, including public schools.

Key Features of 504 Plans:

  • Broader Eligibility: Section 504 has a broader definition of disability compared to IDEA. A student qualifies for a 504 Plan if they have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, including learning. This means that students who may not qualify for an IEP could still receive support through a 504 Plan.
  • Accommodations and Services: The 504 Plan outlines specific accommodations, services, and supports needed by the student to access the same education as their non-disabled peers. Examples include extended time on tests, preferential seating, modified assignments, and the provision of assistive technology.
  • Implementation in General Education: 504 Plans are designed to be implemented within the general education classroom environment. The goal is to remove barriers to learning and participation rather than to provide a different curriculum or special education services.
  • Process for Development: The process to develop a 504 Plan typically involves an evaluation to document the disability, a meeting to determine eligibility, and the development of the plan by a team that includes school staff and the parent(s). However, the process is less formal than that for an IEP, and there are fewer procedural safeguards.

Development and Implementation:

  1. Referral and Evaluation: The process usually starts with a referral for an evaluation, which can come from parents, teachers, or other school personnel who believe the student may have a disability that impacts their learning.
  2. Determination of Eligibility: School personnel review the evaluation results to decide if the student’s condition substantially limits one or more major life activities. If so, they are considered eligible under Section 504.
  3. Plan Development: A 504 team, which includes the parents and relevant school staff, develops the plan. This team decides on the accommodations and modifications necessary to facilitate the student’s education.
  4. Implementation: The 504 Plan is implemented, and school staff are informed of their responsibilities. Parents and students also receive information about the accommodations and how they will be provided.
  5. Review and Revision: The plan is reviewed annually (or more frequently if needed) to update accommodations and to reflect any changes in the student’s needs.

Legal Rights:

Under Section 504, students and their families have specific rights, including the right to:

  • Participate in the development of the 504 Plan.
  • Receive notice regarding identification, evaluation, and placement of the student.
  • Examine relevant records.
  • File a complaint with the school district or the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) if they believe the school is not complying with Section 504.

504 Plans are an essential tool for ensuring that students with disabilities can access and participate in education on an equal basis with their peers. They emphasize leveling the playing field rather than altering educational content or goals.

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