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5 Options for Resolving a 504 Plan Dispute

By Andrew M.I. Lee, JD

At a Glance

  • You may disagree with the school about your child’s 504 plan or how it’s implemented.

  • The law offers five ways to resolve a 504 plan dispute.

  • The options include negotiation, mediation, an impartial hearing, a civil rights complaint, or a lawsuit.

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Sometimes, you and the school may disagree on what goes into your child’s 504 plan . Or you may disagree about how the plan is implemented. Often, talking things out can lead to a solution. But some disagreements become serious disputes.

Federal law— Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act —gives you several options for what to do next. Here are five ways to resolve a 504 plan dispute.

Option 1: Negotiation

Families don’t have a legal right to be part of the team developing a child’s 504 plan. Even so, schools typically try to include parents in 504 plan meetings. During these meetings, you have the chance to negotiate with the school about what your child needs.

Later, if your child’s 504 plan isn’t working , you can ask to meet with the school. They will usually try to work through any issues.

Option 2: Alternative Dispute Resolution

Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) is a catchall for different ways to work through a conflict. This includes mediation —when you and the school try to reach an agreement with the help of a neutral third person. Some, but not all, states and school districts offer ADR for 504 plans.

Option 3: Impartial Hearing

A more serious way to resolve a dispute is through an “impartial hearing.” This is like a short trial where you present your side of the story to a neutral person who decides the case. This person is usually called a hearing officer. If you don’t like the decision, you can appeal.

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To start the process, you need to send a letter to the school district , formally asking for an impartial hearing. The rules on these hearings can vary from state to state and can be complicated. It’s important to think about hiring a special education advocate or lawyer before asking for a hearing.

Option 4: Office for Civil Rights Complaint

Another option for a 504 plan dispute is to file a complaint with the (OCR) for the U.S. Department of Education. An OCR complaint is simply a letter stating that the school violated Section 504. You must file the complaint within 180 days of the violation.

OCR complaints are limited. They focus only on whether a school followed the law. They usually don’t address the content of a 504 plan or question individual education decisions or placement. An OCR complaint may lead to an investigation of the school. Visit the OCR website to learn more.

Option 5: Lawsuit

If you believe the school is discriminating against your child because of a , you can file a lawsuit. You don’t need to have an impartial hearing or file an OCR complaint first. But keep in mind that a lawsuit can be expensive and generally requires a lawyer.

Because of the time and expense involved, make sure you’re confident that you have a strong case before you decide to go to court. A good example would be if the school says your child can’t participate in a school activity solely because of a disability.

No one wants to be in conflict over a child’s education. But if you have no other choice, it’s important to know your options. Since 504 plan rules can vary from school to school, make sure to ask your school for information on its dispute process.

Learn more about your rights under Section 504 . Get information on laws that protect your child’s rights . The more you know, the better prepared you will be to advocate for your child.

Key Takeaways

  • The first option for resolving a 504 plan dispute is negotiation.

  • If you believe the school broke the law, you can file a civil rights complaint.

  • Rules for 504 plans can differ from school to school, so check with your child’s school for more information.

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