Parents, students, and those who are new to the field of education are not always familiar with the various plans available to students with special needs. The most commonly recognized plan is an Individualized Education Plan (IEP); however, there are actually several different options that allow children to receive the help they need to be successful in school.
One type of plan that is gaining popularity is the 504 plan. This refers to a section in the Rehabilitation Act that states that a person can’t be excluded from any federally funded activity or program because of a disability. The disability can be physical, mental, emotional, or due to a variety of other factors such as a learning disability, communicable disease, injury, illness, or chronic condition. An individualized 504 plan allows the school, parents, and student to detail exactly what accommodations the student needs in order to perform at the same level as their peers.
This may sound quite familiar to an IEP plan, but there are some major differences. First, an IEP plan is primarily concerned with educational services, whereas a 504 plan usually offers a wider variety of accommodations such as wheelchair accessibility, allergen free areas, assistive devices for note taking, or home instruction. Also, the guidelines for who is eligible for an IEP are much more rigid than those that govern eligibility for a 504 plan.
One student I am familiar with had severe allergies and asthma that compromised her ability to do certain things. While she was not a candidate for an IEP, her parents and doctors did want to make sure the staff was aware of how to treat her and that exceptions would be made for her condition. Her 504 included the requirement that all staff be trained to respond with an EpiPen in case she should come into contact with certain bees or peanuts. In addition, her PE requirement was not the same as other students, because her allergies and asthma made it very difficult for her to participate in the standard PE activities. Instead, she was allowed to remain in the library and was given academic tasks that related to physical education; she only participated in activities that were held within the gymnasium.
As you can see, a 504 allows for a wide variety of accommodations for a child – much broader than those offered by an IEP. Not all special needs children have learning disabilities, although those children do receive the majority of attention in the discussion of special needs. The 504 allows parents to address virtually any medical condition that may be holding their child back from achieving their full academic potential. In the case above, prior to being able to submit an alternate form of work, the student had been failing PE because she had refused to do the activities. With the alternate evaluation methods she was able to accomplish the tasks assigned to her and pass her class.
What types of accommodations have you seen placed in a 504? Have you found it necessary to educate parents about this option or do many seek out a 504 plan?