12/31/2013 01:24 pm ET Updated Mar 02, 2014

Federal Law: Section 504 Helps Students

In most areas of the country the school year is just about half over. Yet you may be noticing that after four months of school, your child seems to be having problems. If you're educational law-savvy, you know that your child has certain rights. Do you know what educational rights your child has under Federal law? He or she may qualify for help under Section 504, a law originally created to help adults but later amended to help children.

In 1973, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act was established with the purpose of prohibiting discrimination on the basis of any physical or mental disability. Any programs and activities, both public and private, which received federal monies, were required to adhere to this Act.

The Supreme Court of the United States handed down Section 504 which states:

No otherwise qualified handicapped individual shall be excluded from participation in program or activity receiving federal financial assistance, (college, university or other post-secondary institution, or a public system of higher education). -- (29 U.S.C 791 et seq)

Those protected under this section were persons who had documented physical or mental impairment that substantially limited one or more major life's activities and any person who was regarded as having either physical or mental impairment, or having no actual physical or mental impairment were perceived as such.

So how can Section 504 benefit children in elementary and high schools? It can affect them in a very positive manner. They too are covered under this provision of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

A 504 Plan is a legal document that requires specific assistance for students who are in a regular, or general education setting, and who have special needs. It is a plan of instructional services which are written specifically for the student's individual needs, whether physical, mental, or emotional. Section 504 may also be implemented for a student recovering from substance abuse since drug addiction is seen as a handicap which substantially limits a person's major life activities.

Examples of accommodations used in a 504 Plan can be easy access in a room, and the services of an aide, for physically impaired students, medication that must be given in a nurse's office requiring a brief leave from class for a student, or permitting a student to eat in the classroom for certain health reasons. Written and oral testing may also be adjusted for a student under the 504 Plan.

Each case is individual and a student must be referred for a 504 Plan by a teacher, parent or guardian, physician, therapist, or, in some cases, self-requested. A support team usually consisting of counselors, a school nurse, a psychologist, a school administrator and a teacher or teachers are required. The 504 Plan is a team effort; all members have responsibilities in fulfilling the requirements of the 504 for the student. The teacher is not alone in this endeavor.

The 504 Plan is not the same as an IEP, (Individualized Education Plan). The IEP is specifically mandated for Special Education or Classified students. However, a student may move from a classified placement to a general education placement and could, under recommendation, benefit from a 504 Plan.

While many parents are aware that there would be some sort of provision made for a child with a physical impairment, too few know that the 504 Plan can benefit their child for impairments that are not seen, e.g. emotional, mental, substance abuse. The 504 Plan can extend to college and post secondary education.

In the desire to give a thorough, fair and equal education to all students, the implementation of the 504 Plan is an excellent alternative for those students who do not fall under the category of Classified or Special Education but have needs that must be met.

If you feel that your child's needs would be met and helped by the 504 Plan, consult with his or her counselor and request that a 504 Plan meeting be held. Unless there are extenuating circumstances, a meeting should be held within two weeks of your request. A letter from a physician or therapist can work wonders in getting the plan started for your child.

Your child depends on you to help ensure that they receive the best possible education available.