Students who are entitled to a 504 plan (1) have a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities, and (2) need accommodations because of their disability—so they can access and benefit from their education.
To determine if a student needs a 504 plan, the school must follow three steps: refer, evaluate, and determine eligibility.
Parents Have Rights Under Section 504. The school will give parents a copy of their rights, called Procedural Safeguards, before anyone takes the first step toward evaluating a student or developing a 504 plan.
1. Request a Referral for Evaluation
Anyone, including a parent or guardian, can refer a student for evaluation. A Section 504 referral should be in writing and ask that the school evaluate whether or not a student has a disability and needs accommodations, aids, and services. Fill out a 504 Referral Form online or you can find this form at any school building.
2. 504 Team Evaluates
First, the 504 team gathers and analyzes data about the student’s condition. Evaluation data should come from a variety of sources. Grades, test scores, attendance, health room visits, parent and student input, teacher observations, medical or psychological evaluations, special education data, and medical information are just a few examples.
The 504 team should collect data that answers these two questions:
- Does the student have an impairment or disability that substantially limits one or more major life activity?
- If so, what accommodations does the student need to access and benefit from their education?
The school must have consent from a parent or guardian before the evaluation begins. Without consent, a 504 team cannot evaluate a student or continue the 504 process.
Evaluation and the Role of a Medical Diagnosis
There are two important ideas parents should understand about a medical diagnosis:
- A school cannot require a parent to provide a medical diagnosis to evaluate a student. However, a diagnosis can provide very helpful information for the 504
- A medical diagnosis does not always mean that a student needs a 504 plan. Doctors cannot prescribe a 504 plan—only the 504 team can make that decision. However, the 504 team must consider the information a doctor provides when evaluating a student.
3. School Brings a 504 Team Together
The individual needs of the student determines who joins the 504 team. There are three core members of any 504 team:
Someone who knows the student—for example, a parent, teacher, physician, nurse, or counselor. While parents are not required to join the 504 team, the participation of a parent can be incredibly helpful.
Someone who can analyze and interpret the evaluation data
Someone who is knowledgeable about options within the school
The 504 team will determine if a student is eligible and will decide what accommodations should be in place to reduce or eliminate the impact of the student’s disability on his or her education.
4. 504 Team Creates a Plan. School Puts the Plan Into Action.
If the evaluation indicates that the student has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activity, the team determines whether or not the student needs a 504 plan.
The plan describes the accommodations the school must provide to make sure the student can experience a free and appropriate public education, as the law requires.
The school must have consent from a parent or guardian before staff take action on the 504 plan. Schools must give parents a copy of their Section 504 Procedural Safeguards.
With the 504 plan in place, all school staff members follow the plan to accommodate the student. It is the school’s responsibility—not the student’s or parent’s—to make sure teachers are aware of the services, aids, or accommodations in the plan.
Teachers should consult the building’s 504 point person (usually the administrator) or if needed, the district’s Section 504 coordinator, if they need help or clarification on what to do for the student.
5. School Reviews and Evaluates the 504 Plan
Every year, the school should review the 504 plan to make sure it continues to address the student’s needs. However, a parent or teacher could ask for a review at any time if they think the plan is not meeting the student’s needs.
Periodically, the 504 team must re-evaluate the student’s eligibility for Section 504 and the accommodations in the 504 plan. This re-evaluation should take place at least once every three years, but can happen more frequently; it depends on the student’s needs.