504 plans are plans to help students with disabilities or medical needs get accommodations in school. It is sort of like an “IEP lite.” The end goal is to help students succeed!
What is a 504 Plan and when is it used?
You will often see 504 plans in place for students who need accommodations, but not modifications (my article on IEP meetings discusses the difference between the two). Basically, students with 504 plans can usually do grade-level work, but may need to do it in a different way. For instance, you may see 504 plans used for children who miss school frequently due to a chronic illness. In that case, one accommodation would be for them to do their work from home or the hospital. Another example would be a student who has a hearing impairment, and needs seating accommodations so he can see the teacher while she’s speaking. Children with learning disabilities may also have 504 plans.
How are 504 Plans legally different from IEPs?
In some ways, 504 plans are less formal than IEPs. Parents do not have the same level of protections as they do with IEPs, and there is no legally-binding document involved. This makes 504 plans a little bit more flexible than IEPs, but it also makes them vulnerable. That is, some teachers won’t follow them like they should because there isn’t all the pomp and circumstance that comes with IEPs.
Ok, now that I know what a 504 plan is… now what?
Sometimes without the official meetings and paperwork, it’s a little unclear what exactly the teacher is supposed to do. If you find yourself in this situation, try to figure out what it is that your student needs. Don’t feel like you immediately have to know the exact right answer. No one expects you to know everything, and asking for help is a sign of maturity and professionalism (trust me, I learned this the hard way!).
Try talking to his teacher from last year, if he is a returning student. You can also have a meeting over phone or in person with his parent or caregiver, to find out a little bit more about him and what would be helpful. Talking to your school’s special education teachers will probably help, too! Basically, even though 504 plans don’t require a formal “team” like an IEP does, having one will make your job a heck of a lot easier. As they say, “two heads are better than one,” so get together and problem-solve! 🙂