Parents will come to me seeking a 504 Plan for their child.

It is my sense that the 504 Plan, while now part of casual language, is not fully understood and is fraught with a great deal of “on-the-street” mythology.

You know how it goes, your friend or neighbor mentions she recently got a 504 Plan for her child and it is working wonders. Then you start thinking about how to get one for your child.  The neighbor makes some reference to her pediatrician writing something on a prescription pad about a 504 Plan after perhaps five minutes interacting with the child.

Your anxiety quickly elevates as you reflect on the fact that your pediatrician looked at you a bit quizzically when you asked her about obtaining a 504 for your child.

One of the “on-the-street” mythologies is that a 504 Plan is school-based, that is it originated from school regulation and procedures.

Let’s put that one to rest.  The 504 is not a school-based mandate, but it is a civil rights law.

How does that come in to play in the classroom?

As noted in the guidebook,  “Section 504: A Legal Guide for Educators,” it was explained that “Civil rights  laws are designed to promote fairness and equal treatment. Put another way, civil rights laws are meant to ‘level the playing field.’”

In explaining a civil rights law like the 504, the guide went further to encourage us to think about a football field.  Playing a game in which all of the players were not on an equal footing would be fundamentally unfair.  “Everyone should be playing on the same ground,” they stated.  “We would not expect that one football team have a smooth, grassy field and the other team have a field that has a ditch running through it and the rest of the field is full of holes and large rocks.”

For children , adolescents and college-age students, the concept is that those with identified disabilities are playing on a field that is much rougher than the one for children who do not have such disabilities.

As we go forward with talking about the realities of 504 and accommodations, I encourage you to keep reflecting on this image of “leveling the playing field” as a guide to for you as to how to proceed.  In practical terms, what does your child need to help level the playing field?

One last point.  In order to obtain a 504, it must be shown that:

  • “The students has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities and has a record of such impairments.”

Not being a lawyer, as I read that I do scratch my head a bit with the phrase “substantially limits one or more major life activities” and wonder what that means in reality for children on a day-to-day basis.

Over the next couple of weeks, we will keep exploring the practicalities of accommodations and modifications to try and cut through some of the common “on-the-street” talk.

Copyright, 2020
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(***  Please note: Dr. Richard Selznick is a psychologist, clinician and author of four books.  His blog posts represent his opinions and perspectives based on his years of interacting with struggling children, parents and schools.   The goal of the blogs and the website is to provide you with straight-forward, down-to-earth, no-nonsense advice and perspective to help cut through all of the confusion that exists in the field.)