Last Updated on February 12, 2024 by Michelle Ball
By Michelle Ball, Sacramento California Expulsion, Special Education, sports/CIF, College, Education and School Attorney/Lawyer for Students since 1995
Has your child recently been placed on a 504 Plan? Or is a student 504 Plan something they have had since elementary school and you are wondering what it really does? Either way, just what a 504 Plan is and does can be confusing.
What is a 504 Plan?
In simplest terms, a 504 Plan is a written document for a qualified disabled student, which lists out various accommodations which the school is supposed to put in place while the student is at school. Teachers, school, and district staff may be bound by a 504.
Isn’t a 504 Just More Paperwork?
No. This is not just some other form for schools to file away.
A student 504 Plan is actually a very powerful tool which parents can use to help and support students in the educational setting. A well written 504 plan in place in an elementary, middle or high school can make the difference between failing out of school and graduating with honors.
What Should a 504 Plan Do?
A 504 Plan puts in place various actions that school staff must take to help the student. These are mandatory items which the school is bound to provide to that student only.
Once implemented, 504 Plan accommodations should bridge the gap for a student who qualifies and who is having difficulties in school. A 504 Plan should be an equalizer. It should equalize the disabled student’s access to their education so they are made essentially equal to non-disabled students.
Examples of How a 504 Plan Works
Let’s take some examples of how a 504 works.
If a student has a physical disability that causes the student to move much slower than other students, a 504 Plan could allow the student extra time between classes, with no late penalties. It could also provide that anything the same student misses when arriving late is reiterated to the student or provided in written form for the student, so they are not missing anything.
For another student, who has memory issues, a 504 Plan could allow them double time on tests, administration in a quiet place, or allow open notes or open book tests. Teachers may be mandated by the 504 to redirect the student during class, or provide other “check in” type of activities to help the student focus.
Do 504 Plans Really Work?
Yes and no. Yes, if they are written well, and the school staff read and implement them. No, in many cases, as schools often fail to implement them fully.
The reasons 504 Plans fail is often due to the following:
- Poorly written 504 accommodations, that are vague, or unclear
- Lack of enough or adequate accommodations for the student in the 504 Plan
- Accommodations not suited to the individual student, but taken from a preprepared list or form (thus limiting the possible accommodations available)
- No one implementing the accommodations
- No one monitoring if anyone is doing the student’s 504 Plan
- Lack of communication of the 504 Plan to teachers or staff
- Lack of school follow through on 504 implementation
- Lack of parent follow through/trust of school to do the 504
It is Common for Schools to Fail to Implement 504 Plans
I find that many parents express that they may have a 504 plan, but do not know if it is actually being implemented. This is a problem.
Once the student is asked if they are getting X, Y, or Z 504 accommodations, often parents find that the student is not getting most of their 504 accommodations.
Sometimes, a student may not even be aware of their own 504 Plan or the supports they should be receiving.
Schools have a lot going on and a lot to do. Maybe to teachers a 504 IS just another random piece of paper. They drop them or forget about them.
Failure to implement a legally binding 504 Plan is a big violation for schools and may evidence a discriminatory environment for a disabled student.
If parents are not alert that a student 504 Plan is not being implemented, schools get away with it.
Steps Parents Can Take to Develop and Enforce Good 504 Plans
To remedy some 504 issues, parents can do the following;
- Make sure the 504 accommodations are written clearly and in a way that they are not at the discretion of staff to implement. Or, if some discretion is needed, minimize these types of accommodations.
- Make sure the student is aware of the accommodations they should be receiving (if they are old enough to comprehend these) and their plan
- Make sure that the parents know the accommodations
- Check in with the student on the implementation of accommodations
- Ensure the teachers have the 504
- Ensure the teachers implement it
- Get a good administrator on the team to follow up if they are not
- Reconvene 504 meetings as needed
- File complaints if a 504 is not being followed
Student attorney Michelle Ball assists parents in getting well written and enforced 504 plans. As an education lawyer in Sacramento, California, Michelle can help statewide in places such as Roseville, Folsom, Citrus Heights, Galt, Stockton, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Tahoe and many other areas.