The “411” on 504 Plans

Students in grades K–12 who have a disability are protected from discrimination in public schools under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Understanding what a “504 plan” is and how to prepare for it will help your child succeed in the classroom. 

What is a 504 Plan?

A 504 education plan is one that:

  • Identifies the accommodations and/or modifications needed to remove learning barriers for a student within an educational environment.
  • Outlines the responsibilities of all stakeholders (student, parents, and school) in removing these learning barriers.

How is a 504 Plan different from an Individualized Education Plan (IEP)?

Basically, an IEP plan is a blueprint for a child’s special education at school, while a 504 plan is a blueprint for how a child will have access to learning at a school. 

An IEP plan provides individualized special education and related services to meet the needs of the child, and a 504 plan provides services and changes to the learning environment to meet the needs of the child.  504 plan services are generally provided in a regular classroom setting, while IEP services may take place in a variety of settings.

Students who do not qualify for an IEP may still be entitled to receive services under a 504 plan.

This chart is a helpful tool to compare the IEP and 504 Plan.

Who qualifies for a 504 Plan?

Generally a child between the ages of three to 22 who has an enduring, documented health-related, learning or behavioral disability. That disability must interfere with the child’s ability to learn in a general education classroom.

What goes into a 504 Plan?

504 plans often include accommodations.  These can include:

  • Changes to the environment.
  • Changes to instruction.
  • Changes to how curriculum is presented.

While it is rare, some 504 plans include modifications. While an accommodation changes how a student learns the same material as his/her classmates, a modification changes what a child is taught or is expected to learn. Examples of modifications include:

  • Fewer homework assignments.
  • Different grading criteria.

Understood.org provides these Tips to Developing a Good 504 Plan:

  • Be proactive about being part of the process.
  • Make sure the plan is personalized to your child.
  • Cover all areas where your child needs support.
  • Describe each service in specific terms.
  • Be sure the plan names personnel.
  • Check in with your child and teachers.
  • Review and update the 504 plan once a year.

Is there a 504 Plan in College?

There is no 504 plan in college, and a student’s high school 504 plan does not “travel” with them to college. However, all colleges are required to protect students from discrimination under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Acts (ADA)

Colleges may still offer accommodations under Section 504, but it will not be called a 504 plan. The disability service models at colleges are quite different from those in high schools.  Here is a list of common college accommodations and services.

It is important to understand that in college, the responsibility for obtaining accommodations under Section 504 falls on the student. College students with disabilities must learn to self-advocate. For tips about how to prepare for college, see Accessible College Part 2.

Where can I learn more about the 504 Process?

Many schools, disability and advocacy organizations host workshops and webinars about legal rights and issues, including 504 plans. Check our resource directory for events in your area!


This guide was developed as part of a project made possible by a Grant from the Ohio State Bar Foundation.  The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent those of the Ohio State Bar Foundation.

Lead researcher/author: Jack Maib, J.D. Candidate, 2019, RedTreehouse.org Legal Intern

 

Jeanine Carroll