Who qualifies for a 504 plan?
504 plans are for K–12 public school students with disabilities. Section 504 defines “disability” in very broad terms. That’s why children who aren’t eligible for an IEP may qualify for a 504 plan. Section 504 defines a person with a disability as someone who:
- Has a physical or mental impairment that “substantially” limits one or more major life activity (such as reading or concentrating).
- Has a record of the impairment.
- Is regarded as having an impairment, or a significant difficulty that isn’t temporary. For example, a broken leg isn’t an impairment, but a chronic condition, like a food allergy, might be.
This definition covers a wide range of issues, including ADHD and learning disabilities. However, Section 504 doesn’t specifically list disabilities by name.
Having a disability doesn’t automatically make a student eligible for a 504 plan. First the school has to do an evaluation to decide if a child’s disability “substantially” limits his ability to learn and participate in the general education classroom.
This evaluation can be initiated by either the parent or the school. If the school initiates the evaluation, it must notify the parents and get the parents’ consent to evaluate a child for a 504 plan. If the school wants to move ahead without the parents’ consent, it must request a due process hearing to get permission to work around the parents’ refusal.
When doing an evaluation for a 504 plan, the school considers information from several sources, including:
- Documentation of the child’s disability (such as a doctor’s diagnosis)
- Evaluation results (if the school recently evaluated the child for an IEP)
- Observations by the student’s parents and teachers
- Academic record
- Independent evaluations (if available)
Section 504 requires evaluation procedures that prevent students from being misclassified, incorrectly labeled as having a disability or incorrectly placed.