504 plans: A guide for teachers

As a general education teacher, you likely have several students in your class who learn and think differently. Some of them may have 504 plans, which means you’re responsible for implementing accommodations and other supports for these students.

So what exactly is a 504 plan? And what do you need to know about them? Use this guide to learn all about 504 plans. 

What is a 504 plan?

A 504 plan is designed to give students with disabilities or medical conditions equal access to the general education curriculum. It outlines how the school will provide supports and remove barriers to learning.

You may have heard a 504 plan called a “504 accommodation plan.” That’s because the 504 plan outlines the and other supports a student will receive.

504 plans aren’t part of special education. Students who qualify for have a different kind of plan called an Individualized Education Program (IEP). Learn more about how a 504 plan is different from an IEP.

Why do some students with disabilities have 504 plans instead of IEPs?

To qualify for special education services, students with disabilities must need specialized instruction to make progress in the general education curriculum. Some students with disabilities don’t meet the eligibility criteria for an IEP. But they may need support to have “equal access” and learn alongside their peers in general education. That’s what a 504 plan is for.

To qualify for a 504 plan, a student needs to have “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” Life activities can include everyday activities like walking and breathing. But they can also include learning, concentrating, thinking, and communicating.

What’s in a 504 plan?

The main way that 504 plans support students is through accommodations. Accommodations change how the students learn, not what they’re learning. 

These accommodations are tailored to meet the specific needs of the student. They’re designed to minimize the impact the student’s disability has on learning the general education curriculum.

Here are some examples of accommodations you might see in 504 plans: 

  • A student with dyslexia may be allowed to use text-to-speech technology and may get extended time for work that involves reading, spelling, and writing.

  • A student with ADHD may be provided with a quiet setting for tests and preferential seating in the classroom to help reduce distractions. 

  • A student with autism who struggles with self-regulation may have a that all teachers follow. 

  • A student with anxiety may be allowed to leave the classroom as needed for short breaks.

A 504 plan may include accommodations that are provided during statewide standardized assessments. 

If a student has medical needs, accommodations might focus on things like the school nurse helping a student with asthma use a nebulizer during the day. A 504 plan can also include information about specialized medical care the student needs and training for staff around that condition.

There are two other kinds of supports a 504 plan might include, but these are less common:

  • Related services: A 504 plan typically does not provide for individualized instruction. But in some cases, students may get related services through a 504 plan, like occupational therapy or counseling services.

  • Modifications: Though rare, 504 plans can provide modifications. These modifications change what a student is taught or is expected to learn. For example, students might get fewer homework assignments. Or they may be graded in a different way than their classmates. They may be expected to learn less material — or material that is less complex.

Who drafts and approves 504 plans?

504 plans are drafted by a team of specialists. These teams go by different names at different schools. Your school might call it the 504 team, MTSS team, student assistance team, or school resource team. The school’s 504 coordinator typically approves the plan the same day it’s drafted. 

Schools aren’t required to involve parents, guardians, and caregivers in creating 504 plans. But most schools invite families to participate in the process and attend 504 meetings. A best practice for any school, team, or educator is to involve families in decisions about a child’s learning experience.

The civil rights law that covers 504 plans doesn’t require that the plans be written, so there isn’t a template or format that schools must follow. However, most plans contain similar information. Download this sample plan for a student with ADHD to learn what information you can expect to see in a 504 plan.

What are a general education teacher’s responsibilities with 504 plans? 

As a general education teacher, you have two responsibilities when it comes to 504 plans: to know which accommodations the student needs to use in your classroom and to make sure these accommodations are available to be used. You may already have some of these supports built in for all students, especially if you use essential practices like Universal Design for Learning.

If you’re not sure how to provide a specific accommodation, talk with your school’s 504 coordinator or special education staff. 

A 504 plan should change and adapt as the student’s needs change and adapt. The school resource team can revisit a student’s 504 plan and decide if it needs to be changed.

For that reason, it’s a good idea to document how well the accommodations are working, how often they’re being used, and what other types of support you’re providing for a student. Having data can help support discussions about what needs to be changed and why. 

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