If your child is struggling in school but is not eligible for Special Education Services, the school may still have to offer your child some accommodations. Section 504 of the federal Rehabilitation Act requires public schools to offer accommodations for students with disabilities. The specific accommodations a student needs will be listed in a 504 Plan.
What is a 504 Plan?
When a student is eligible for 504 services, the school and the child’s parents will make a 504 Plan. The 504 Plan should list the problems the student is having and the help the student will be offered. The student’s teachers and other school staff must follow this plan.
How Are 504 Plans Different Than Individualized Education Programs (IEPs)?
There are three main differences between 504 Plans and IEPs:
The students served
The services provided
The eligibility process
The Students Served
Any student with a disability is eligible for 504 services. Generally, 504 Plans are used to help students with disabilities who may not be eligible for an IEP, but still need some accommodations at school. Students with more severe disabilities are usually eligible for IEPs. All students with IEPs are eligible for 504 Plans, but the opposite is not true.
The Services Provided
504 Plans list certain accommodations and instructions that are designed to help a student. Like 504 Plans, IEPs also list accommodations and instructions. However, a child with an IEP has more protections when it comes to discipline. To learn more about these extra protections, read School Discipline: Rights for Students With Disabilities.
Students with 504 Plans should be evaluated every so often to adjust their plans. Students must be evaluated before any major change (for example, a student given a helper to take notes for them because of a broken arm will be reevaluated once their arm is healed). Both 504 Plans and IEPs require student evaluations. But the rules about student evaluations are not the same. One big difference is that 504 Plans do not have strict guidelines about the types of evaluations necessary or when they should happen. To learn more about evaluation guidelines for students with IEPs, read School Discipline: Rights for Students With Disabilities and Evaluations for Students With Disabilities.
Another difference between 504 Plans and IEPs is that 504 Plans do not need to be in writing. However, it is always a good idea to get the plan in writing. That helps you ensure that the school is doing what it said it would do.
The Eligibility Process
If you want to ask for a 504 Plan for your child, you must first contact the school. Specifically, you should contact the staff member in charge of the 504 process (sometimes called the 504 coordinator). This person is in charge of making sure the school follows 504 guidelines. Once you contact this person, you can ask for a copy of the school’s 504 policy and ask that your child be evaluated. You may want to make your request in writing. Use the Do-It-Yourself Letter Requesting Special Education Services (SES) or 504 Services tool to draft a letter requesting that your child be evaluated.
After the evaluation is done, the 504 coordinator will set up a meeting. At the meeting, a group of people who know your child will decide if they are eligible for 504 services. If your child is eligible, the people in the group could make your child’s 504 Plan. In an IEP eligibility meeting, that group includes the child’s parent(s). A big difference between the 504 and IEP processes is that you, the parent, do not have to be invited to the 504 meeting. You do have a right to know about the process. You can ask that your child be reevaluated if the school decided your child is not eligible for 504 services. Use the Do-It-Yourself Letter Requesting Special Education Services (SES) or 504 Services tool to ask that your child be reevaluated.
You can also request a due process hearing or file a complaint with the Michigan Department of Education if you disagree with the school’s decision or any part of the 504 Plan. To learn more about due process hearings and filing complaints, read Due Process Hearings and Education-Related Complaints.
What If My Child's 504 Plan Is not Being Followed?
When a student has a 504 plan, the student’s teachers and other school staff must follow this plan. If your child’s 504 plan is not being followed, you can write a letter to the 504 coordinator to ask for a review or follow your child’s school district internal complaint process. Most school districts have information about their complaint process on their website. If your child’s school district does not have this information on their website, you can call the school district’s main office.
You can also request a Section 504 hearing or file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (USDOE-OCR). The USDOE-OCR process has a strict time limit, so it is best to file right away. If you want to file a complaint with USDOE-OCR, you may want to discuss this option with a lawyer.
Whether you have a low income or not, you can use the Guide to Legal Help to find lawyers in your area. If you have a low income, you may qualify for free legal services. If you are not able to get free legal services but can’t afford high legal fees, consider hiring a lawyer for part of your case instead of the whole thing. This is called limited scope representation. To learn more, read Limited Scope Representation (LSR): A More Affordable Way to Hire a Lawyer. To find a limited scope lawyer, follow this link to the State Bar of Michigan lawyer directory. This link lists lawyers who offer limited scope representation. You can narrow the results to lawyers in your area by typing in your county, city, or zip code at the top of the page. You can also narrow the results by topic by entering the kind of lawyer you need (divorce, estate, etc.) at the top of the page.