Section 504 Plans

Section 504 is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Section 504 ensures that the child with a disability has equal access to an education. The child may receive accommodations and modifications.

The 504 plan is designed to provide accommodations or assistance to a student who qualifies as a person with a disability under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Such a plan is developed by a team of people knowledgeable about the student and his or her needs. The team includes the student (if appropriate), the student’s parents/guardian and educational professionals. The plan specifies accommodations needed for the child in order to “level the playing field” and ensure access in the general education curriculum.

Accommodations and Modifications

Under Section 504, the child with a disability may receive accommodations and modifications that are not available to children who are not disabled. These accommodations and modifications are also available under IDEA.

Access vs. Educational Benefit

Change the facts to clarify the differences between these two laws. Assume that your special needs child is in a wheel chair. Under Section 504, your child shall not be discriminated against because of the disability. Your child shall be provided with access to an education, to and through the schoolhouse door. Modifications may be made to the building and other accommodations may be made for your child.

Under Section 504 regulations, a free appropriate public education is defined as "the provision of regular or special education and related aids and services that . . . are designed to meet individual educational needs of persons with disabilities as adequately as the needs of persons without disabilities are met and . . . are based upon adherence to specified procedures." (34 C.F.R.§ 104.33(b)(1))

Now assume that your child in a wheelchair also has neurological problems that adversely affect the child's ability to learn. Under the IDEA, if your child has a disability that adversely affects educational performance, your child is entitled to an education that is designed to meet the child's unique needs and from which your child receives educational benefit. Section 504 includes no guarantee that your wheelchair-bound child will receive an education from which your child receives educational benefit. Your Section 504 child has access to the same free appropriate public education that is available to children who are not disabled.


If the Section 504 child misbehaves and the school decides the child's behavior is not a manifestation of the disability, the child can be expelled from school permanently. The IDEA child has the right to FAPE, even if expelled from school. Section 504 and ADA do not provide these protections.

Procedural Safeguards

Section 504 does not include a clearly established "Prior Written Notice" requirement. In contrast, IDEA includes an elaborate system of procedural safeguards designed to protect the child and parents. These safeguards include written notice before any change of placement and the right to an independent educational evaluation. Section 504 does not include these protections.


The child who has a disability or impairment does not automatically qualify for special education services under the IDEA. If the child has a disability but does not need special education services, the child will not qualify for special education and related services under the IDEA but may receive protections under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

To be eligible for services and protection against discrimination on the basis of disability under Section 504, a student must be determined, as a result of an evaluation, to:

  • Have a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities
  • Have a record of such an impairment, or
  • be regarded as having such an impairment [§104.3(j)]
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