Whether your child’s school has said something to you, or you just suspect your child may be an exceptional child, you have found yourself on the internet searching “504 plan,” and you’re not sure what’s coming next. Unfortunately, there can sometimes be a stigma associated with children who have or may need 504 plans, but it basically means your child does or might require certain accommodations to take full advantage of his or her right to a Free Appropriate Public Education (“FAPE”).
Here’s an overview of what’s going on
The term “504 plan” is a shorthand term for a plan designed to provide a FAPE under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, free of charge, to a student who requires aids and services designed to meet the needs of students with qualified disabilities “as adequately as the needs of non-disabled students are met and are based on adherence to procedures governing educational setting, evaluation and placement, and procedural safeguards.” A school’s requirement to comply with Section 504 is tied to the school’s receipt of federal funding. In short, if the school receives federal funding, then it must comply with Section 504.
So, what does compliance with Section 504 look like? In general, your child’s school needs to check off the following boxes to comply with Section 504:
- Evaluation procedures and methods to classify and place students appropriately;
- Regular reevaluations of implemented aids and services, including reevaluation before making major changes to placement and/or services;
- Regular provision of appropriate aids and services designed to meet the student’s individual educational needs;
- Education of disabled students with non-disabled students to the maximum extent appropriate for the disabled student’s needs; and
- A system of procedural safeguards that include at least:
- Notice to the parent(s);
- Opportunity for parent(s) to review the child’s records;
- An impartial due process hearing; and
- A review procedure.
Here’s what you do
First, remember that the school is not your opponent until it becomes your opponent, so remain actively involved and cooperative with the school in developing and implementing your child’s 504 plan.
Second, get and stay organized. Active involvement will likely require such things as regular attendance at meetings about you child, communication with school personnel, etc. Don’t miss meetings. Make sure to clearly communicate with school personnel in a timely manner. Ask for clarification if you don’t understand something.
Third, document everything. Everything. Keep every email. Keep every letter. Keep every document, record, notice, schedule, etc. Having writings is far better than only having word of mouth if or when you need to refresh your memory about what’s happened so far or need to hold the school to what they said.
Finally, remember the above three tasks are interrelated. You are the primary person looking out for your child’s right to a Free Appropriate Public Education, so you are the person who is primarily responsible for holding the school accountable. Remaining actively involved, getting and staying organized, and documenting everything are powerful ways to look out for your child and hold the school accountable.
When the system breaks down
Every point along the way is a potential place where the system could break down. Sometimes a parent and the school disagree over some aspect of the 504 plan. Sometimes the school takes to long to evaluate a child in the first place. Sometimes the school proactively decides it will refuse to provide the aids and services a child is entitled to by law. The below link will take you to a blog post where a North Carolina mother shares her experience and illustrates how badly the system can break down: https://adayinourshoes.com/special-education-battle/
There are varying degrees to which the system can break down, but, unfortunately, that mom’s case is not uncommon. So, if the system breaks down for you, don’t take on a fight with the school on your own. Give us a call at King Law. We can be reached at 888-745-KING (5464).
Read more in our Special Education blog section.
 34 C.F.R. § 104.33