Educational 504 Plans

Section 504 Background Information

As a school psychologist, it is my primary job to assist special education teams in developing Individualized Education Plans for students with exceptionalities.  I may also be asked to consult with parents and teachers about mental health issues in the school and counsel with students who need such assistance.  In addition, I regularly play a part in making building-level decisions which impact all students.  Participating in 504 Teams is one way in which I fill this role.

For students who do not meet the requirements for special education services, a "504 Plan" may another option to address a physical or mental disability.  Often times, 504 plans are useful for students with physical disabilities that do not affect his or her ability to learn, yet have a major impact on their ability to access the curriculum.  The keyword here is access.  A student may be eligible for a 504 Plan if they cannot access the curriculum or resources without physical accommodations or modifications to their environment.  Similarly, the Americans with Disabilities Act requires public structures to follow certain accessibility standards.

This online brochure offers a great summary of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 as it relates to students in public schools.  Section 504 of this act is a very broad set of mandates, requirements, and protections relating to individuals with physical or mental disabilities who attend schools that are funded with federal money.  A 504 Plan would likely be appropriate for a student who has a significant physical disability (either long-term or short-term) that prohibits them from walking up the steps to the second level in a school building.  In many cases, "stair climbers" or elevators are used to allow students access to upper stories in tall buildings.

For students with disabilities, it's important to note that there are several key differences between Section 504 Plans and Individualized Education Plans. Here's another side-by-side comparison of the two types of plans which teams may consider for students who need additional assistance in school.

A Section 504/ADA Legal Case Study

I once heard about a legal case in which an older school building (which was scheduled to be abandoned at the end of the school year) enrolled a student in a wheelchair who was unable to access the library on the second story. To comply with 504/ADA, the school administration considered installing an elevator for this child to access he library; however, the cost to install the elevator for the remainder of the school year would not be cost effective.

The school administration then decided that it would be acceptable to ask the student what books he would like from the library, then send an aide to retrieve the books and bring them back down to the student. When challenged in court, the court did not decide that the school's decision was legal.  The court determined that sending an aide to retrieve books was still not allowing the student to access the resources that the school offered all other students. It would not be the same, the court argued, to restrict the student to the first floor while his classmates could spend time casually browsing, reading, and learning in the library.

In the end, the school district modified their plan. Rather than bringing only the books the child requested down to him on the first floor, they decided to bring all the books down. The school district actually moved the entire library facility (books, shelves, equipment, staff, etc.) to the first floor. This satisfied the court, met the legal requirements for 504/ADA and is an excellent example of the power that a 504 Plan and ADA regulations can exhibit.