504 plans aren’t part of special education. So, they’re different from IEPs. 504 plans and IEPs are covered by different laws and work in different ways. But the end goal is the same: to help students thrive in school. (Learn more about the difference between IEPs and 504 plans.)
One way 504 plans do that is through accommodations. For example, they might give extended time on tests or the ability to leave the classroom for short breaks. It’s less common, but some may also provide services like speech-language therapy or study skills classes.
Accommodations address specific challenges. A child with ADHD who’s easily distracted might get a seat at the front of the class. A child with dyslexia might be allowed to use text-to-speech technology. And a student with slow processing speed might get extra time on tests.
While it’s rare, 504 plans can provide modifications. Unlike accommodations, modifications do change what a student is taught or is expected to learn. Students might get fewer homework assignments, for instance. Or they may be graded in a different way than their classmates.
With 504 plans, schools look at information about a student from a few different sources. One source might be a medical diagnosis. Schools might also look at the student’s grades, test scores, and teacher recommendations.
Families or schools can request a 504 plan through the school district’s 504 coordinator. This person may also be the IEP coordinator. (Ask the principal if you’re not sure who to contact.) The request must be in writing. The school will then hold a meeting to decide if the child qualifies and what supports are appropriate.
504 plans are covered by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Under this civil rights law, students have the right to a free appropriate public education (FAPE). And that’s the whole point of 504 plans: to give students access to the same education their peers are getting. (FAPE is also guaranteed under the special education law IDEA.)
But families have the right to be notified when their child is evaluated or identified with a disability. They also have the right to see all of their child’s records. And if they have a dispute about the 504 process, they have the right to complain.
The 504 process has fewer protections than the special education process. But families can still play an important role by staying involved and making sure kids with disabilities get the same education as kids who don’t.