Schools in the U.S. that receive federal funding must adhere to the provision in Section 504 of the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Section 504 guarantees individuals with disabilities equal access to education as a civil right. Educational plans based on Section 504 are referred to as 504 Plans.
In order to qualify for a 504 Plan, a person must have a physical or mental impairment that causes significant limitations to one or more areas of life activities. Recent clarification of the definition of “disability” has broadened the application of 504 Plans to students who may not have previously qualified.
These plans can address a number of different areas, including the physical assistance a student needs to attend school, adaptations needed to perform academically, and equipment/technology needs. The plan can also specify services such as physical therapy, speech therapy, or occupational therapy.
Unlike an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP), the 504 Plan does not address the need for specialized instruction. Students who qualify for special education services will receive services as specified through an IEP rather than a 504 Plan.
The 504 Plan also differs from an IEP in other ways as well. While an IEP requires a formal written plan, a 504 Plan does not. Unlike the IEP process, parents are not required to be part of the planning process. In practice, however, parents are often involved in formulating 504 Plans, and these plans often have written documentation. Schools do not receive additional federal funding for services given under a 504 Plan.
If parents do not feel that their child’s needs are being met by the school, the parent does have the right to file a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education. Parents have the right to review records and to request a hearing if they feel that there has been discrimination against their child.
During the hearing process, the school selects the hearing officer. The school, along with the hearing officer, set the details of the hearing process. Parents are not required to be present for the hearing and are not required to provide consent: Parents must, however, be given the option to participate in the hearing and to have legal counsel.
While most students with neuromuscular disease have physical disabilities, they less often have learning disability or cognitive delay. Many students with neuromuscular disease will not qualify for special education services through an IEP. However, these students may qualify for 504 Plans even though they do not qualify for special education services.
Quintero, A., (2009). 504 Plans: What Parents Should Know. Quest, 16:2. http://quest.mda.org/article/504-plans-what-parents-should-know . Retrieved 10/18/12.
U.S. Department of Education, (2010). Free Appropriate Public Education for Students with Disabilities: Requirement Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/edlite-FAPE504.html . Retrieved 10/18/12.
U.S. Department of Education, (2011). U.S. Office for Civil Rights website. http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/index.html . Retrieved 10/18/12.
U.S. Department of Education, (2012). OCR Questions and Answers on the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 for Students with Disabilities Attending Public Elementary and Secondary Schools. http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/dcl-504faq-201109.html . Retrieved 10/18/12.