504 plans: 5 common pitfalls

By Kristin Stanberry

At a glance

  • Pitfalls can occur at any point in the 504 process.

  • Understanding the process can help you negotiate an effective 504 plan.

  • Knowing what’s possible with a 504 plan can help you avoid many of these pitfalls.

The rules around 504 plans are much looser than they are for IEPs. For that reason, parents can miss (or misunderstand) some of the key steps in the process. Here are five common pitfalls to avoid.

Pitfall #1: Not exploring what’s possible with a 504 plan.

Schools sometimes skim over the details of what a 504 plan can include. They may not explain that it can provide , , and special services like those in an . Prepare in advance by learning as much as you can about your options. You can then use that knowledge to ask that specific kinds of help become part of your child’s 504 plan.

Pitfall #2: Being passive about participation.

The law doesn’t guarantee parents the right to attend their child’s 504 plan meetings. However, many schools are happy to include parents. But it’s best not to wait for an invitation. If the school tells you they’re evaluating your child for a 504 plan, let them know that you want to be part of any meetings where your child’s needs will be discussed.

Once your child has a 504 plan, stay proactive. Ask for a copy of the 504 plan. Make sure your child’s annual 504 plan meeting doesn’t take place without you. Contact your child’s 504 committee leader or principal early in the school year to get the meeting on your calendar — and theirs.

Pitfall #3: Accepting the school’s “standard” 504 plan for students with your child’s disability.

Some schools present parents with a standard 504 plan for students with a certain disability. They claim, “It has helped many children like yours.” However, the needs of kids with the same disability can vary. That means a standard 504 plan for (or any other disability) isn’t very useful.

You might get some ideas from a standard 504 plan. But your child’s plan needs to be tailored to meet individual needs. It may help if you come prepared to discuss your child’s specific areas of weakness, along with ideas of some accommodations you think might be useful.

Pitfall #4: Assuming the school is implementing your child’s 504 plan.

After getting your child’s 504 plan in place, it’s important to keep track of what’s happening. Make sure your child’s 504 plan is followed. Talk with your child about school, and monitor homework and test scores. Is the school providing the promised accommodations, modifications, and services? Take any concerns to your child’s teacher or 504 committee leader.

Pitfall #5: Not pushing for a careful review and update of the 504 plan every year.

The 504 committee should review and revise your child’s 504 plan every year. As kids move through school, they may master some skills but struggle with new ones. The academic load will also increase. You’ll want your child’s 504 plan updated to document changing needs and any different accommodations, modifications, and services that may be needed.

You may find that not all of these pitfalls apply to your situation. For example, the school may invite you to the annual 504 plan meeting even before you contact them. But keep these tips in mind in case things change.

Key takeaways

  • Proactive parents can advocate for their kids better than passive parents.

  • Don’t accept a standard 504 plan that doesn’t address your child’s issues.

  • Stay engaged as your child’s 504 plan is developed and implemented.

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    About the author

    About the author

    Kristin Stanberry is a writer and editor specializing in parenting, education, and consumer health/wellness.

    Reviewed by

    Reviewed by

    Whitney Hollins is a special education teacher and adjunct instructor at Hunter College.