How to Get a 504 Plan for Your Child in 2024: The Ultimate Step-by-Step Guide

As parents, we want our children to thrive in school. But when a child has a disability, learning and focusing can be a real challenge without the proper support. This is where a 504 plan can help level the playing field.

A 504 plan provides accommodations and modifications to remove barriers and give equal access to education. If your child has ADHD, anxiety, or another condition affecting their learning, a 504 plan may be the game-changer they need.

But how exactly do you go about getting this useful accommodation for your student? In this guide, we’ll walk through the key steps so you can advocate to get the 504 plan your child deserves. 

But First, What is Section 504?

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a federal law that protects students with disabilities from discrimination in public schools. It requires schools to provide eligible students with 504 plans detailing accommodations and modifications to give them equal access to education.

Section 504 has a very broad definition of disability. A child may qualify if they have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity like learning, speaking, breathing, sleeping, concentrating, reading, communicating, or thinking.

Even if your child doesn’t require special education services, Section 504 can still apply if their education is impacted by a disability or medical condition. Common qualifying diagnoses include ADHD, anxiety, diabetes, seizures, vision or hearing impairments, learning disorders, or chronic illnesses like asthma.

Your Child’s Section 504 Rights

Under Section 504, children with disabilities in public schools have the right to:

  • Receive a free, appropriate public education designed to meet their needs as adequately as students without disabilities
  • Be educated alongside peers without disabilities to the maximum extent appropriate
  • Receive reasonable accommodations and modifications that allow equal access and opportunity to participate in school programs, services, and activities
  • Not be excluded or discriminated against in school settings based on their disability
  • Have periodic re-evaluations to determine if accommodations are still required

Is Your Child Eligible for a 504 Plan?

For a student to be protected and eligible under Section 504, three requirements must be met:

  1. The child has a mental or physical impairment (a broad range of conditions qualify)
  2. That impairment substantially limits one or more major life activities (like learning, concentrating, thinking, communicating)
  3. Without accommodations, the limitation would impede the child’s ability to access education equally.

So even if a child has a qualifying disability, they must require assistance to have educational opportunities on par with peers.

The 504 team, including parents and school staff, makes eligibility decisions on a case-by-case basis using evaluation data. 

Starting the 504 Evaluation Process

Parents can initiate an evaluation if they suspect a student needs 504 accommodations. The best approach is to submit a written request to your child’s teacher, principal, or counselor detailing your child’s condition, limitations, and how it impacts their school experience.

The school must respond in a timely manner. While timeframes are not defined, extended delays may be considered noncompliant. Make sure to document all requests and responses.

After receiving the request, the school may either proceed with an evaluation or deny conducting one. If denied, they must notify you of the right to appeal their decision. An evaluation cannot occur without the parent’s consent.

The 504 Evaluation

The 504 evaluation draws on data from various sources to determine if your child’s disability substantially limits a major activity impacting their education. Information examined often includes:

  • Medical, psychological, or educational test results and diagnoses
  • Observations of the student in class by teachers
  • Interviews with parents, teachers, doctors, the student, and others familiar with the child’s difficulties
  • Academic performance records like grades, disciplinary incidents, and progress reports
  • Samples of unaccommodated work vs work with existing supports

For some disabilities like severe allergies or diabetes, documentation of the diagnosis may sufficiently demonstrate its severity without additional assessment. The school cannot charge you for evaluation.

Attending The Evaluation Meeting

Once information is compiled, a team will hold a meeting to go over the data and determine if the student qualifies under Section 504.

Required members include:

  • Someone knowledgeable about the child
  • Someone familiar with the evaluation data and able to interpret it
  • Someone familiar with potential accommodations/services

If there is a single person who is knowledgeable about all three, then only that person and the parents are necessary for the meeting. This team collaboratively decides if the student has a qualifying disability that substantially limits a major life activity requiring accommodations. If eligible, they then develop a 504 plan detailing appropriate support. 

Parents are critical advocates throughout the process. 

Creating the 504 Plan

The 504 plan spells out the specific accommodations and modifications necessary for your child to access education opportunities comparable to their peers. Examples may include:

  • Extended time on assignments and tests
  • Frequent breaks
  • Assistive technology
  • Note-takers or scribes
  • Closed captioning
  • Front row seating
  • Having a test read to them

The plan should be tailored to counteract limitations stemming from your child’s disability. 

Implementing the 504 Plan

Once eligibility is determined, the specific accommodations will be formalized into an official 504 plan document. This lists the modifications teachers and staff must provide, like allowing extra time on tests or providing audio textbooks.

Make sure you get a copy of the 504 plan and that every teacher follows it consistently. The accommodations should continue year-to-year until no longer needed, with annual plan reviews. Speak up immediately if you notice lapses in implementation so corrections can be made. Consistent enforcement is vital.

With these steps, you can work through the 504 plan process successfully on your child’s behalf. Having accommodations legally mandated can transform their school experience, removing unfair obstacles. Of course, every child and situation is unique. We’re here to help with getting your child the educational support they need to thrive.

Resolving Disagreements with Your Child’s School Under Section 504

If you disagree with your child’s school during any step of the process of obtaining a 504 plan, know that you have rights. 

Here are a few things to note: 

Special needs planning law firm Shields Law can help if you disagree with your child’s school regarding Section 504. Here are some key things to know about resolving disputes through the 504 process:

  • Grievance Procedures: School districts must have grievance procedures that allow parents to file complaints regarding discrimination, harassment, and retaliation based on disability.
  • Due Process Hearing: If the grievance process concludes and you still disagree, you can request a 504 due process hearing.
  • Mediation: If both parties agree, you can resolve disagreements through mediation with a neutral third party.
  • Appeal: You can appeal the hearing decision by initiating court proceedings.
  • OCR Complaint: You can make a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) regarding Section 504 violations. OCR has 180 days to investigate after alleged actions occurred, with possible extensions.

At Shields Law, our special needs planning attorneys can represent you in these proceedings, advocating for your child’s best interests.

Get Help Obtaining the 504 Plan Your Child Deserves

Walking through the 504 plan process on your own can feel overwhelming. But you don’t have to do it alone.

Our team attorneys have years of experience advising families just like yours. We’re intimately familiar with Section 504 requirements and how to advocate effectively with your school.

We can review your child’s situation, ensure you have the right documentation, and assist with:

  • Drafting a compelling 504 plan request
  • Communicating clearly with school staff
  • Negotiating appropriate accommodations
  • Ensuring consistent implementation
  • Appealing any denials or violations

Every child deserves an equal chance at academic success. We’re passionate about using our legal acumen to make that possible. Reach out today to schedule a consultation on obtaining a 504 plan tailored to your child’s needs.

Author Bio

Kevin Piwowarski Shields

Kevin Shields

Kevin Shields is a Founding Member and Special Education Lawyer at Shields Law Firm, representing children and families in special needs matters throughout Texas. Before becoming a lawyer, Kevin worked as a general education teacher and fought for increased inclusion time for his students receiving services. He advocated for his students by calling out providers who missed sessions and was often the dissenting voice at the IEP table.

Kevin obtained his Juris Doctor from Georgetown University Law School and holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Texas at Austin. He is admitted to practice law in Texas, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. He is also a member of the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA) and holds memberships in the State Bar of Texas, focusing on School Law, Juvenile Law, and Child Protection Law. He is also a member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.

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