If you think a student qualifies for a 504 plan, they must have some physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a significant life activity. That would be something within the confines of the school or getting to and from the school. But it would have to do with something within the school day, in the environment that they are substantially impaired, and that limits these sorts of life events, which would be education.
What is a typical 504 Plan Timeline? How long does it take from the time a parent requests the 504 plan and the drafted accommodations? And how long are those accommodations suitable for? So, this is a blog that walks you through the timeline of the entire process. Before we start, I want to go over a couple of things. 504 plans are codified in federal law, specifically the Rehabilitation Act section 504. So, that’s where it comes from.
Suppose you think that the student or your child would qualify. Before starting the process, I recommend you take the child to a healthcare provider such as a therapist, primary care, or specialist to get that impairment diagnosis. Because if you don’t, the 504 coordinators or team could; first, it could take a lot longer, and the student could be found ineligible.
504 Evaluation Process
So, before you even start, if you think the child has an impairment, get a diagnosis first. And then let’s start from when the clock starts. One thing to remember is that 504 plans and IEPs are interchangeable but not. They do have some overlap, but the thing with an IEP is that there are stringent deadlines for when the school must comply. So, respond, evaluate, and all of that.
The requirements of a 504 plan are vaguer, so we’re going to go over what the law says and generally what the requirement is. At the end of the blog, I will go into if you feel the school is violating this and they’re not complying. I will explain how to report the school to the Office of Civil Rights.
First, we have the diagnosis of the student. The parent feels like they are impaired or substantially impaired within the classroom, so they are ready. They want to ask for those accommodations for the 504 plan.
So, always do this in writing. I would send a certified letter and potentially an email to multiple staff members, but I would send an official letter certified to the school so that no one can later say, oh, no, we didn’t know that you needed one.
The clock would then restart. If you want the clock to start and you’re very serious about getting your child those accommodations, you want to send in a certified letter. That’s what I would do. Now, the timeframe in the federal statute says a reasonable time from receipt of the initial referral. That will be the letter when you ask for them to be evaluated for a 504.
Can a Parent Request a 504 Meeting?
Generally, most states or schools may have a policy—it’s around 30 days. I recommend sending it in a letter. If you don’t hear back from the school within 30 days, we have a problem. I would reach back out to the school and try multiple times. Again, at the end of the blog, I will explain how you can enforce this timeline. So, the law says reasonable from the time of the referral. So, 30 days is generally reasonable.
If you haven’t heard back from the school within two weeks, give them a gentle nudge and reach out. After that, they have 30 days to compile the 504 plan evaluation team. At that time, they’re going to look at that meeting. They’re going to look and see what the diagnosis is and also the within the school.
It could be grades, medical information, or teachers and other staff observations. They will look at all this data and see if there is a substantial impairment. They’re going to make the deciding factor if the student then qualifies. Again, this initial meeting for evaluation says within a reasonable time, but generally, this is another 30 days.
How Long Does a 504 Meeting Take?
So, you’ve got a referral. At this evaluation meeting, it will typically take 30 days to make progress to check and see if the student is eligible for accommodations. Sometimes, the eligibility-determining meeting and the initial eligibility-determination meeting could be more precise.
Determination and evaluation are two separate things, but most of the time, they are together, and this is within 30 days of your referral. They will take this information and decide. If they determine that the student is eligible for 504 plan accommodations, they will move forward to the developing meeting.
The developing meeting is whenever the team is going to all come together. An important thing to remember about this is that parents or guardians are part of this team.
It could also mean other staff members, therapists, other types of healthcare providers, coordinators, and lots of people. So sometimes it takes work to coordinate this whole group to come together for this meeting. It can take a little bit longer occasionally, but remember that the law’s key phrase is a reasonable period.
Again, this is customarily held at the very least within 30 days of the determination. So, we’ve determined that the child is eligible for the 504 plan accommodations within 30 days. It shouldn’t be over 30.
Who Can Request a 504 Plan for a Student?
Then the group needs to come together to discuss what type of accommodations should be included. The IEP is then drafted and implemented. The child would receive all those accommodations. Everything looks great, and we are up and running. So, when you request an evaluation, the school has 30 days to evaluate the student. From there, we have another 30 days to determine eligibility. Now, those sometimes are simultaneous. Then 30 days to go ahead and have the team assembled and draft that letter.
As you can see, there are many steps to a 504 plan. It can take a long time. So, if you are concerned about your student, like I said, you need to get a diagnosis as soon as possible. Please refer to it as quickly as possible. And any delay in that process is going to take even more time. So, again, the legal standard is a reasonable period. But remember that it’s 30 days for each step.
And so, you want to keep reaching out to the school. You want to keep communicating to avoid getting lost in the shuffle. Because it takes time and there are many people to assemble. You want to ensure you continually communicate with the school about your request. Now, we are in the process. The 504 plan is in place. Everything is great. At that point, every year, there should be a 504 plan meeting.
At the Initial Evaluation Meeting, they will discuss whether they feel the student is still eligible. Are these accommodations working? Does anything need to be amended or removed? It’s a time to meet, monitor progress, and see how the student is doing. That is required every year. And then, every three years, the student is up for re-eligibility.
At the three-year mark, the team will come together and decide whether the student qualifies for a 504 plan. And then this process continues until the student completes their secondary education.
Other blogs have explained this, but accommodations can follow the student even at the university level. They’re not only called a 504 plan. There are many different names for the accommodations, but they can go through their educational career.
But as you can see, generally, within 30 calendar days from each of those initial steps can take a long time. If your child suffers in school, ask for a 504 plan as soon as possible to get the ball rolling. How would you enforce this timeline? You need to send an official letter with certified mail because we have a record of the communication with the school.
If you feel like the school is not complying with this, and they’re just completely ignoring you, or you feel like this is very unreasonable, like if it’s been three months, you’ve been reaching out to the school, asking them for eligibility for 504. They are just dodging you—what do you do?
Let the school know that you intend to file a complaint.
Sometimes that will be enough to get them to realize that you’re serious and that they need to comply with federal law. But sometimes they don’t. We won’t get into if we think this is ill will or if this is just an oversight because that’s the school’s responsibility that isn’t the parent’s. And I always want to remind them of that as well. Don’t feel bad for holding the school accountable. They know the rules, or they should know the rules.
504 Plan Timeline Delays
It’s their job. If they have continuously delayed the process and the time that they have delayed is unreasonable, you can file a complaint, or you can have an attorney do it for you. We do this here at our firm.
You’ll file a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights. It is a federal agency, not a state agency. One confusion here is that parents think they can report the school to their state board of education. You can do that for IEPs. However, you need to report 504s to the Office of Civil Rights. You would allege or claim that your child has been discriminated against because of disability; they’re denied accommodations in the 504 plan.
If you go to the Office of Civil Rights website, there is a way to make a formal complaint against the school. As I said, you want to show that you have a communication timeline.
What are the steps in the Section 504 processes?
A 504 plan’s development and implementation typically involve identifying and assessing the student, creating a plan outlining the accommodations and support the student will receive, putting the plan into practice in the student’s educational environment, and continuously monitoring and evaluating the plan. Students, parents, teachers, and other school staff members work together to complete this process.
How long is 504 plan good for?
Depending on each student’s needs and the rules of the school or district, a 504 plan’s duration may change.
However, 504 plans are generally regularly reviewed and updated to ensure they continue to meet the student’s needs. It may entail reviews every year, every two years, or more frequently if the student’s needs change or the accommodations specified in the plan stop working.
Does Anxiety count for a 504 plan?
According to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which forbids discrimination based on disability in programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance, anxiety may be regarded as a disability. It indicates that students who struggle with anxiety may qualify for modifications and assistance under a 504 plan.