What is the best way for a student to submit a 504 Plan Request? A 504 plan, properly understood by knowing its meaning, details the modifications and assistance a student with a disability would require to participate and achieve in the classroom. These programs, developed following the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (which you can read about on the US Department of Education’s website), are intended to assist students with disabilities in receiving the assistance they require to succeed academically.
A student must have a physical or mental handicap that significantly impairs one or more key life tasks, such as speaking, walking, or learning, to be eligible for a 504 plan. The modifications per a 504 plan are tailored to each student’s unique needs and may include extra time for exams, rewritten homework assignments, and assistive technology such as what’s listed on Understood.org.
So, how can students succeed with a 504 plan? Here are some key steps:
- Recognize your obligations and rights under the plan. Students should be aware of the support and accommodations they are entitled to under their 504 plans and how to speak up for themselves if they believe the school doesn’t address their needs.
- Communicate regularly with teachers and other school staff. Students should communicate openly and regularly with their teachers and other school staff about their accommodations and how the school implements them. It can help ensure that the 504 plan is effective and that they address any issues on time.
- Use the accommodations provided. Students should use the accommodations provided under their 504 plan, as the program intends to level the playing field and give them the support they need to succeed. For example, if students are granted extra time on tests, they should take advantage of this opportunity to fully demonstrate their knowledge and abilities.
- Take advantage of additional support services. Many schools offer extra support services, such as tutoring or counseling, for students with 504 plans. Students should take advantage of these resources to help them succeed in school.
The federal statutes define eligibility for 504 plan accommodations as any physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life event, which would be being in the school itself, not just in the classroom. My first tip for students to succeed is for parents and the 504 plan team to think beyond just the general education classroom. That’s important, of course. How teachers administer exams, interact, and how they will handle instructions. All that is very important, and we’ll get to that later.
But for students to succeed and have the best chance possible, we must think beyond the general education classroom. So, what are we leaving out? Transitions between classrooms. The school could grant accommodations for that transition if this student has multiple middle, junior high, or high school classrooms. They may be allowed additional time, and accommodations could make the transition as easy as possible if they have a locker or backpack. Again, we’re thinking about outside the classroom. That’s tip number one for success—transition.
Also, extracurricular activities after school. For clubs and sports, accommodations can be made for that too. Transportation coming to and from school, like buses. The biggest ones that get overlooked, especially if there have been sensory issues and disciplinary problems in the past, are accommodations surrounding the cafeteria and lunchtime. The cafeteria during lunchtime can be one of the most overstimulating environments for a child. So, you must think it’s the smells of the food, it’s the crowds of children, or it’s the sounds. Everything can be so overstimulating.
You want to think about your child in every different type of situation throughout the school day, not just inside the general education classroom. That’s the number one tip for success. Think about the whole school day from the time they leave your house, go to school, and the time that they come back. You want to think about all of that entirely. Set them up for success. My second tip for success is that accommodations need to be written very clearly and detailed but straightforwardly.
Meaning that if anybody looks at that 504 plan within that school—and we’re talking substitute teachers, aids, admin staff, bus drivers, cafeteria workers potentially, or anyone within the school who comes in and works for the school—can look at that 504 plan and know exactly how to administer it. An example I like to give is if a substitute teacher comes in, looks at the 504 plan, and says the student receives extended time for an exam.
Well, an exam happens that day. How long is that student allowed? It says an extended time. So, is that the whole day? Is that double? Is that triple the time of the other students? That can be disruptive to the student and other people in the class. It cannot be evident for the substitute. Accommodations must be in writing to implement the 504 plan and help the student as much as possible. That is so anyone in the school looking at that 504 plan knows precisely how to comply with those accommodations. So, that’s tip number two.
Tip number three is a bit more complicated, and I can use the example of anxiety. If a child has an anxiety disorder, specifically around exams, there are specific general accommodations that the school will imply. Like extended time or they can go into a different area to take the exam. Staff may be available to sit next to that student. Those are all just very general. But for the student to succeed with a 504 plan, you must consider the root of that impairment.
This one would be anxiety. What about that exam is giving the student anxiety? Is it the environment? Do multiple people in the classroom overstimulate them? They must be placed outside the classroom whenever they take their exam. Maybe it’s reading the exam. We have the root cause, so we don’t need to put them outside the classroom. They may need an extended time, like double or triple. And we have that detailed in the 504 plan.
Here’s another one, maybe if there’s anxiety about reading the exam. Now, the student does not have a learning disability for reading. It’s just reading within that environment that causes them stress. So, someone should read the exam to that student. They don’t need extra time. They may or may not need a different environment. They need staff members to go ahead and read that exam to them. That’s the root, the actual cause of the impairment. If you dig deeper, you can get unique accommodations for the student, tailored to meet their specific needs and let them succeed.
Another example is physical impairments. Something to remember is if a student, let’s say, needs a wheelchair to move around. Do we need to place them in a specific area in the classroom, in front, so they can freely come in and out? So, that’s another example. You want it tailored to meet their exact needs. Please don’t settle for those blanket accommodations where extra time or staff will help or assist. Get detailed and get to the root of the impairment so the student can succeed.
And then my fourth tip for a student succeeding with a 504 plan is that the implementation of accommodations is not disruptive to other students in the class. And that there is no attention drawn to that student. Let me give an example of that. You don’t want the student to be singled out so the whole class knows this child has some impairment. You don’t want them singled out.
So, how can we stop that so the student can succeed and there’s no stress and anxiety about going to school every day? So, one way, I will use the example of anxiety again. Suppose a child needs to leave because they may feel an anxiety attack or are overstimulated instead of raising their hand and asking the teacher, teacher. In that case, I feel like I will have an anxiety attack. May I leave the classroom? That’s singling that student out.
We don’t want that, which will cause them stress and anxiety. A better way to succeed would be a cue to the teacher. Many ways this happens is either there’s a code word that the student can use, a hand signal, or they put two fingers up, one finger up, a thumbs up, thumbs down— something like that. They cue the teacher that they need that accommodation.
Again, it may be stress, anxiety attacks, or something like that, and they must leave the classroom. They cue the teacher so no one else knows what’s happening. The teacher understands it, and they let the student go. And so, that way, there’s no singling out of your child and their accommodations. That will help them succeed and give them the best success possible.
How Do I Ask for a 504 Plan?
To ask for a 504 plan, you will need to speak with your child’s school. Typically, the first step is to contact your child’s teacher or school counselor to discuss your concerns and request an evaluation to determine if your child is eligible for a 504 plan. If the evaluation indicates that your child has a disability that substantially limits one or more major life activities, the school will convene a meeting with you and other relevant school staff to develop a 504 plan that meets your child’s individual needs.
How Do I Get a 504 Plan for Anxiety?
Suppose an evaluation indicates that your child has an anxiety disorder that substantially limits one or more major life activities, such as learning or social interaction. In that case, the school will convene a meeting with you and other relevant school staff to develop a 504 plan that meets your child’s individual needs. The accommodations in the plan may include extra time on tests, modified homework assignments, and the use of relaxation techniques or anxiety-reducing strategies.
What Are Examples of 504 Accommodations?
Examples of 504 accommodations may include things like:
Extra time on tests and assignments,
Modified homework assignments,
Access to assistive technology, such as a computer or speech-to-text software, use of a calculator or other specialized tools during tests,
The ability to take breaks during tests or class activities,
The use of a quiet, distraction-reduced testing environment,
Access to a note-taker or other support to help with note-taking,
The ability to record lectures,
The use of visual aids or other alternative methods of instruction, and
The ability to stand or move around during class.
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.