What are the 504 Plan California requirements?
504 plans look the same in all 50 states because 504 plan accommodations are codified in federal statutes, specifically the Rehabilitation Act section 504 of that Federal Act.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, those are the requirements of 504 plan accommodations. It is federal law, so it applies to all 50 states. So, if you are a public school or charter school within California, the 504 plan accommodation requirements will be the same anywhere else.
A 504 plan is a document that outlines accommodations and support services for a student with a disability who is attending school.
Here are three strategies for obtaining a 504 plan form for a student:
- Work With The School: The 504 plan application process starts with the school. To get things moving, you can collaborate with the special education coordinator at the school or another designated employee. To do this, the student may need to present proof of their disability and meet with the school to discuss their needs and how they can be satisfied through accommodations and support services. The Council for Exceptional Children offers resources that may help with this process.
- Involve The Student: It’s crucial to involve the student in creating a 504 plan. It can ensure that the plan’s accommodations and support services are tailored to the needs and preferences of the student.
- Keep Accurate Records: It can be beneficial to the 504 plan process to keep thorough records of the student’s disability and any previous accommodations or support services given. It could include things like assessments, progress reports, and medical records.
It’s worth noting that the process for obtaining a 504 plan may vary depending on the specific school and district. It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the policies and procedures of your school or district to understand the particular steps involved in obtaining a 504 plan for a student.
Now, states can’t add more specific guidelines on top of the federal guidelines, but they cannot offer any less than what is required by federal law.
Let’s talk about a 504 plan, who qualifies for it, what it looks like, and how it’s implemented.
If you feel like your child is a student who’s potentially struggling in school, they may qualify for accommodations outlined in the 504 plan.
How to Get a 504 Plan in California
The way to know if your child will qualify is; first, federal statutes define this as a student having a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a significant life activity. In practice, this looks like if a child may have a diagnosis of ADHD, anxiety, or ODD, those are all considered mental impairments. Or physical impairments where they are in an accident and have a TBI. Are they in a wheelchair? Do they need specific services for physical therapy or sensory processing things? The list is endless of what can be considered a diagnosis.
In IEP, qualifying sort of disability has to fit into a category. With the 504 plan, though, it doesn’t. So any diagnosis you’re going to get that’s either physical or mental, as long as the student is substantially impaired while at school, is where the second part comes in.
So, if you have a diagnosis that your child has some impairment, then you need to figure out with the 504 plan or evaluation team if they are substantially impaired at school. A lot of this boils down to observations of staff, typically the general education teacher, if they look like or are acting in such a way that the data shows that they’re physically or mentally impaired, substantially limiting them within the education environment of the school.
The team will then decide whether the child is eligible for accommodations. If they qualify, what happens is that the team meets. And when I say team members, this is parents or guardians; they are valued team members. Usually, it’s a general education teacher and other staff at this school, potentially the 504 plan coordinator and administration. It could also be a therapist or someone working with the child daily. They’ll come together and decide what areas of the school or school day the child needs accommodations.
So, is this in the general education classroom? Do they need accommodations transitioning in the hallway to other classes, potentially specials? So, PE, music, library, art, bathroom accommodations, and cafeteria. It is the big one that gets overlooked. For any child who has sensory processing disorders, the cafeteria is the worst place for them to be. It’s incredibly overstimulating. It’s loud and smelly.
Many visuals are going on. They’re eating their food. So, it is a place you want to remember whenever you think about areas that need accommodations. Then we’re going to go into the actual accommodations themselves.
What Is a 504 Plan in California?
When you’re writing or drafting your accommodations, you need to be as specific and straightforward as possible because it’s likely that multiple people would see that 504 plan. Let’s say a child gets extended exam time if it’s an accommodation. The general education teacher will likely know how much extra time they’re given.
But if a substitute or admin staff is giving out evaluations or exams, and they look at that accommodation, they won’t know how much extra time is needed. Can the child stay all day working on that exam? Is it double the time of everybody else? Is it triple?
When it comes to writing the actual accommodations, I always recommend being very specific so that anybody who picks up the 504 plan within the school, including cafeteria workers, specials, teachers, substitutes, admin, and aides, will be able to read that and know exactly how to implement that accommodation. Next, you must determine how frequently the school will implement this accommodation.
If we’re talking about exams and spelling tests being given on a Friday, the accommodation would then come into play. And if this is a cafeteria accommodation, every day during lunchtime. If this is therapy, like OT, it’s best if it’s written in actual minutes for frequency because sometimes it’s difficult for the therapist to come in every day at a specific time. But it’s easier for them to implement the same amount of minutes.
So, if something comes up and they can’t be there on a Monday, that’s okay. They can come in on Tuesday if they’re giving the same number of minutes of actual therapy because that’s what’s important. Also, in the 504 plan, you must attach medical information outlining the child’s diagnosis. And then anybody attending the meeting typically must sign a document indicating they’re present.
The thing parents and guardians have to remember, though, is that you do have a lot of legal rights and remedies. If you disagree with the evaluations, you can ask an outside evaluator for a second opinion. You can request if the school still denies a 504 plan. Or if there’s a 504 plan and they’re not implementing it, the biggest thing we hear from clients is that the school is telling them these are guidelines. They’re not guidelines. They are accommodations that protect the student from discrimination because of their disability.
So, if the child is not getting a 504 plan, or if they have one and it’s not being implemented correctly, parents can file a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights. They will handle a dispute process with the school regarding the 504 plan accommodations. The biggest thing is, parents, there are ways to hold the school accountable if you feel like you’re not getting anywhere. If you’re requesting accommodations or asking them to comply with a 504 plan, send in an official letter detailing that with dates and times.
504 Plan California
That’s important to get that process started. And then, if there is ever any legal dispute in the future, you have that information for your record.
Again, to summarize everything, 504 plans are codified in federal law. A student must have a mental or physical impairment that substantially limits a major life event. Then if this happens, you can check those boxes, and they will qualify for 504 plan accommodations.
When you’re writing the 504 plan, remember, parents, you are part of the team. You do have a voice; you do have legal rights and remedies. And again, when the accommodations are being drafted, ensure that anyone looking at them knows how to implement them.
Jennifer Hanson is a dedicated and seasoned writer specializing in the field of special education. With a passion for advocating for the rights and needs of children with diverse learning abilities, Jennifer uses her pen to educate, inspire, and empower both educators and parents alike.