The 504 Plan in Lay Terms

Have you ever wondered, "What is a 504 plan?", and then been overwhelmed with the legal jargon? It comes from a large set of codes called the Education Codes, or Ed. Codes.

Dealing with either a 504 plan or an IEP can get very confusing! It's important you understand what's going on, so I've broken it down into the lay terms of the common man (or mom).

What Are We Talking About?

This plan is an alternative to an Individual Education Plan (IEP) and falls under the category of Special Education services . It covers a child that may not qualify for an IEP because of a specific disability, but still is recognized as needing individual services.

It stems from the 1974 Rehabilitation Act that prohibits discrimination, and states that:

“No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States, as defined in section 706(8) of this title, shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance...” [29 U.S.C. §794(a), 34 C.F.R. §104.4(a)].

A person with a disability is someone who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity; (ii) has a record of such an impairment; or (iii) is regarded as having such an impairment” [34 C.F.R. §104.3(j)(1)].

What does this mean for me?

If your child has one or more life activities, such as SCHOOL, LEARNING, or BEHAVIOR, that is limited or signifigantly affected because of their neurobiological challenges , they may qualify for behavioral modification program (the 504)...


Academic progress is just one criteria, which means that you could have a child who is super smart, but significantly challenged in another area. Maybe they are missing executive function skills . In that case, planning, prioritizing, and organizing projects affects his or her ability to perform.

Each school district determines the criteria.

Please note: the 504 plan is not for a child with mild to moderate neurobiological challenges. The key is whether or not the student’s issue substantially impacts a major life activity.

The Process

The 504 plan process mimics that of an IEP, with evaluations, meetings, accommodations, and implementation.

The accommodations would take into account the non-academic life activities such as behavior.

This does not mean that your child will be without discipline, boundaries, or structure!

It can be initiated by anyone, but never without your knowledge. You can initiate a request for consideration through a written letter.

NOTE: The letter serves as written documentation and starts a timeclock.

Food For Thought

Here's some food for thought. A 504 plan will not cure your child of his or her problem. It will not guarantee success at school. It does not absolve you of responsibility at home. Don't let it become a crutch for you or your child. It happens.

What a 504 plan will do is provide structures to accomodate the needs of your child while they are learning to master those skills.

They still need you to teach and reinforce those skills at home. They need to continue the remediation program reccomended by your team . They still need to be held accountable for their actions.

And ALWAYS ALWAYS, the goal for your child should be independence as soon as possible. You want them to grow up to be successful, well-rounded adults who are capable of being a productive member of society. Those are all skills that begin early in life.

As a wise mother of an older child with learning disabilities once told me...

"A parent who does...always will."