"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. Unlike the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Section 504 does not require a public school to provide an individualized educational program (IEP) that is designed to meet a child's unique needs and provide the child with educational benefit. Under Section 504, fewer procedural safeguards are available to the child with a disability and the child's parents than under IDEA." — Wrightslaw
Both Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and 504 plans can offer formal help for K–12 students with learning and attention issues. They’re similar in some ways but quite different in others.
Are you confused about the differences between Section 504 and IDEA? You aren't alone. It's important for the parent to understand that their child has different rights under Section 504 and IDEA.
A little overwhelming, but this page has lots of detailed info about legal scope of 504 plans.
Overview of 504 plans
What is Section 504?
Section 504 is a Civil Rights Law which prohibits discrimination based upon disabilities and requires that schools as well as other publicly funded organizations make reasonable accommodations to ensure equal participation by disabled individuals. The intent is to remove barriers to employment, education, and communication.
Who qualifies for accommodations under Section 504?
Students, parents, staff who have a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities, have a record of such impairment, and/or are regarded as having such an impairment are eligible. It is important to note that learning is considered as a major life activity. Most disabilities fall into the category of physiological or psychological disorders; therefore, some students who have learning disabilities which preclude them from accessing the curriculum, but who may not qualify for Special Education services, may require accommodations under Section 504.
What does Section 504 do?
It calls for a group of individuals knowledgeable about the student to make the determination that
(1) there is a disability, and
(2) the disability “substantially” (as opposed to “mildly” or “moderately”) limits a major life function.
The regulations are designed to level the playing field, ensuring that the disabled student has the opportunity to perform to the level of the average student of the same age or grade level. It is not a guarantee of success. The accommodations it provides do not fundamentally alter or lower the standards or expectations of a course or test. If a disability is severe enough to require major modifications, then it may warrant Special Education services.
Who writes the Section 504 Student Accommodation Plan?
The student’s Guidance Counselor, based upon the input of that group of people most knowledgeable about the student (e.g. parents, student, teachers, psychologist, pediatrician and/or others) writes the plan.
What then happens to the Section 504 plan?
It is provided to the parents, all of the school system personnel who will be expected to provide the accommodations, the Principal, Guidance Counselor, and System-wide Coordinator of Section 504. A copy is also placed in the temporary student record. It is reviewed whenever there is a significant change in the student’s placement, such as a different school.
What responsibilities do the educational staff have?
The school system is obliged to offer a Section 504 Student Accommodation Plan to any qualifying individual. Once the Plan is agreed upon, the individual staff members who are to implement the accommodations must do so.