504 Plans and IEPs
As a result of the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the educational system was transformed in an effort to better support students with disabilities. One of the biggest changes was that the law required programming be designed for students with special needs, both in and outside of the classroom. There were many components of the original law, each one representing a significant adjustment to how education had previously been organized. In this video, we will discuss Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, what kinds of programs and plans it consists of, as well as some examples of accommodations it may require. Let’s begin!
To start, let’s consider what Section 504 is for. The foundation of this law prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in many entities, including public elementary and secondary schools. This law applies to all public schools, including public colleges or universities that receive federal financial assistance. It also applies to outside of school programs that receive federal funding, such as libraries or airports, requiring them to be accessible.
A 504 plan is an accommodation plan that is developed to ensure that children with disabilities identified by the law who are attending elementary or secondary school receive educational support and accommodations that will help them succeed academically. It differs from an Individualized Education Plan, otherwise known as an IEP, which is required for students grades K-12 who need special education services. A 504 plan may be appropriate for students with a physical impairment, medical condition, sensory impairment, processing disorder, or cognitive impairment.
When considering implementation of a 504 plan, the first step is identifying and diagnosing the student in order for them to qualify. Teachers or service providers that have worked with the student may refer them for further evaluation if they believe that the student has a disability which is creating a substantial barrier on one or more aspects of daily living. The concerns can also be brought up by a parent or guardian, physician, or therapist. 504 plans can also be used by students who are returning to school after an injury or illness, or if they don’t qualify for special education services or an IEP but still require additional aid to succeed in school. The plan aims to provide equal access to education to all students.
Unlike an IEP, which is a long and detailed document, a 504 plan tends to be shorter, typically around 2 pages of length, though this can range depending on the needs of the student. Specifically, the plan outlines the assistance, services, and accommodations that a student is required to receive and who is responsible for providing them. In addition to detailing the student’s concern or disability, the 504 plan will typically describe how that disability is affecting the education of the student.
If it is determined that there is a sufficient basis for creating a 504 plan for a student, the next step is determining what to offer and what components need to be included. The coordinator takes into account factors such as student diagnosis, grades, difficulties students are experiencing, as well as teachers’ recommendations about what accommodations will provide further support. Some examples of instructional adjustments could be frequent check-ins from the teacher, specific seating placements in class, aid with technology, or modified textbooks or materials. It is important to remember that in the majority of cases, the purpose of the plan is to accommodate the way the subject matter is presented to students, not to alter the content. Altering the way information is presented helps to remove obstacles put into place by the student’s disability.
Let’s look at some concrete examples of accommodations based on a few common disabilities that result in a 504 plan. ADHD, a commonly known disability in school-aged students, might have an accommodation written that the student is allowed to take 15-minute brain breaks at specified time periods, or allow the student to stand while working. It might also include permitting the student to use notes provided by peers to study from, or allowing extra time for assignments. Students with ADHD might require instructions provided both orally and in written form, or need to be supported with an organizational system that helps to keep track of their papers.
For students with a diagnosed anxiety disorder, an accommodation might provide the student with a fidget for them to utilize during the day, or the use of a weighted vest or item. It might also include pre-scheduled times of the day that the student is allowed to leave the classroom in order to speak with the school counselor.
When a student has a medical condition such as asthma, the plan might include a set way for students to obtain and complete missed assignments, or one-on-one time for the teacher to review missed material. It would also likely include procedures for communication between the teacher and the school nurse regarding access to medication administration. The plan might also include an adapted activity level to make sure that the student is able to participate in games at recess or physical education, or a locker placement that is close to the classroom.
There are many additional accommodations that could be listed apart from these examples, including modifying test-taking environments or suggesting unique approaches to presenting the curriculum. 504 plans are annually reviewed to make sure the accommodations are up to date and appropriate. If a student no longer needs an accommodation, it can be removed.
As stated earlier, a 504 plan and an Individualized Education Plan differ. The main difference is that a 504 plan is broader, amends a student’s regular education program in the classroom, and is monitored by classroom teachers. Depending on the student’s needs, a student with an IEP might receive different educational services in a special or general classroom setting. A 504 plan is also different from a regular education intervention plan, which is appropriate in cases where the student doesn’t have a disability or hasn’t been diagnosed with one, but is still facing academic or behavioral difficulties.
The role of the classroom teacher is instrumental in a 504 plan. A great deal of flexibility is required in the teaching methods, and occasionally, in the way in which work from students with disabilities can be submitted. There may be times when adjustments need to be made to the classroom environment, or the need for communication with parents or school personnel may increase. The 504 plan provides the necessary requirements, but it is the classroom teacher who is mandated to implement them and abide by the plan.
Developing appropriate planning for students with disabilities can have a substantial impact on the overall educational experience of the student. By modifying the method of teaching rather than the content of a student’s education, students have the opportunity to demonstrate their full understanding and progress without being hindered by obstacles based on disabilities. As general and special educators, it is our responsibility both to the student and to the law to be in compliance with the goals and accommodations set forth by documents such as a 504 plan.
That is it for today’s video on developing appropriate programming for students with disabilities. Thanks for watching, and happy studying.