Children with disabilities can face academic hurdles for a variety of reasons. In addition to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and other antidiscrimination laws, parents can take advantage of Section 504 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to help ensure their children's special needs are met.
Section 504 is designed to help parents of students with physical or mental impairments in public schools, or publicly funded private schools, work with educators to design customized educational plans. These 504 plans legally ensure that students will be treated fairly at school.
Section 504 Plans
Students can qualify for Section 504 plans if they have physical or mental impairments that affect or limit any of their abilities to:
walk, breathe, eat, or sleep
communicate, see, hear, or speak
read, concentrate, think, or learn
stand, bend, lift, or work
Examples of accommodations in 504 plans include:
extended time on tests and assignments
reduced homework or classwork
verbal, visual, or technology aids
modified textbooks or audio-video materials
behavior management support
adjusted class schedules or grading
excused lateness, absence, or missed classwork
pre-approved nurse's office visits and accompaniment to visits
occupational or physical therapy
The goal of 504 plans is for students to be educated in regular classrooms along with the services, accommodations, or educational aids they might need. If students with these plans cannot achieve satisfactory academic success, as is determined by the school, then alternative settings in the school or private or residential programs can be considered.
Section 504 Plans vs. Individualized Education Program
A 504 plan is different from an individualized education program (“IEP”). The main difference is that a 504 plan modifies a student's regular education program in a regular classroom setting. A 504 plan is monitored by classroom teachers. Section 504 Plans ensure that special needs children have the same access to their school program as their nondisabled peers.
A student with an IEP, as part of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), may receive different educational services in a special or regular educational setting, depending on the student's needs. IEP programs are delivered and monitored by additional school support staff. Among other things, an IEP also can modify a special needs student’s educational program including excusing them from state standardized testing, placing them in specialized classes, and excusing them from meeting a state's graduation requirements.
Referral and Evaluation
A 504 plan should be considered when a student fails to benefit from instruction due to a physical or mental impairment. The issue can be raised by a parent or legal guardian, teacher, physician, or therapist.
A 504 plan can help when a student returns to school after a serious injury or illness, or when a student is not eligible for special education services or an IEP, but still needs extra services to succeed academically. Once an educational concern is raised, the school principal or other academic advisor sets up a meeting of a 504 planning team. The team usually consists of parents, the principal, classroom teachers, and other school personnel (i.e., school nurse, guidance counselor, psychologist, or social worker).
After reviewing the child’s academic and medical records and interviewing the student and parents, the 504 team determines if the child is eligible to have a 504 plan put in place. Sometimes school officials and parents disagree about eligibility. Disagreements also can arise about details within the 504 plan itself. In these cases, parents can make written appeals to the school district or file for due process in New Jersey.
Review of the Section 504 Plan
Once the plan is developed by the team, all of the student’s teachers are responsible for implementing the accommodations in the plan, as well as participating in plan reviews. The 504 plan should be reviewed at least annually to determine if the accommodations are up to date and appropriate, based on the student's needs. Any 504 plan team member, including the parent, may call for a 504 plan review at any time if there is an educational concern or change in the student's needs.
The plan can be terminated if the 504 team determines that the student:
is no longer disabled;
no longer requires any special accommodations or services to meet the identified needs; or
can be appropriately instructed in general education.
Private School Students With Disabilities
Parents have the right to choose where their kids will be educated. This choice includes public or private elementary schools and secondary schools, including religious schools. It also includes charter schools and home schools.
Nevertheless, it is important to understand that the rights of children with disabilities who are placed by their parents in private elementary schools and secondary schools are not the same as those of children with disabilities who are enrolled in public schools. Children with disabilities who are placed in private schools may not get any services or the same services they would have received in a public school.
If you need assistance in obtaining a Section 504 plan for your child or if your local school district fails to properly implement your child's current 504 Plan, please contact the Law Office of Joseph D. Castellucci, Jr. today. We possess decades of experience in handling all school law and special education matters. We are a boutique law firm practicing in Morristown, New Jersey with a focus on providing our clients with personalized and compassionate representation with driven results. Contact our office today to schedule a consultation: (973) 285-3253.