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What is a 504 Behavior Plan?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Feb 20, 2024
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A 504 behavior plan was established by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, part of federal law in the US. The 504 behavior plan helps to provide accommodations for students who are considered physically disabled. Disability does not necessarily mean impairment of walking or movement, but may refer to chronic conditions like severe asthma, or to recognized learning problems like autism and ADHD.

Many wonder how a 504 behavior plan differs from an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). The main difference is that the IEP attempts to provide accommodations for students who have significant discrepancies in learning abilities. Such individuals may test well, but consistently perform poorly in class; they may have speech/language difficulties, or coding difficulties like dyslexia. Some have large discrepancies between written and spoken language.

In general, neither the 504 behavior plan, nor the IEP has anything to do with a child’s intelligence, though there are naturally some students who may need accommodations due to mental retardation. Usually, these plans focus on accommodation of learning styles that differ from the mode of instruction afforded in a particular school. A dyslexic student or a child with speech/language delays may be just as intelligent as a typical straight A student. So neither IEPs nor 504 behavior plans should be considered as stigmatic.

In fact, normally the 504 behavior plan deals more specifically with medical disabilities that may make it difficult for a child to fully participate in all activities for which a student must be deemed competent. The child with chronic asthma might for example have exemptions or special modifications regarding physical education (PE) classes. He or she might have adaptive PE, or have a PE program designed that will allow him or her to reach reasonable goals without exceeding his or her limits.

The 504 behavior plan can be very helpful when there is no academic discrepancy. Some children may need additional support after long hospitalizations and yet not test into IEP parameters. In these cases, evaluation of support services like counseling at school, friendship groups, or plans for when a child must be absent due to frequent illness can all help the child feel successful. As well, these plans are tailored for the student to complete school and get full credit for completion.

A 504 behavior plan can be instituted prior to a student even entering grammar school. Most children with 504 classification can be enrolled in free preschools, called SELPA schools, which help them learn early socialization skills, thus increasing their success in early elementary education. SELPA schools also tailor education to meet the needs of children with disabilities and each school will have a particular focus toward types of disabilities, so children are reasonably grouped with others of similar ability.

The 504 behavior plan can than be of great assistance in the elementary, and secondary school setting. A medically fragile child might require greater surveillance than a child in perfect health. When this is determined, the school must hire someone to shadow that child during recess times, or in some cases to assist the student during all aspects of the day. In this way, the child is fully included in a regular class.

Where significant disability like autism or retardation exists, the 504 behavior plan may also adjust standards for evaluation of the student. This is particularly effective in elementary settings, but begins to lose steam in secondary education. When grading standards are changed in secondary education, students may not be eligible for graduation, but may instead only receive a certification of completion of high school.

However, secondary schools cannot ban students from gaining their diploma when serious physical challenges make some required courses impossible. For example, the child with significant movement impairment cannot be held from graduation because he or she cannot participate in physical education classes. Conversely, a child with learning disabilities on an IEP may not graduate without passing high school exit examinations. New rules have tightened restrictions on graduation and offer fewer and fewer modifications for students with learning challenges, particularly during standardized testing.

Nevertheless, the 504 behavior plan can be a tremendous tool for helping the child to be a full participant in a classroom. As well, early inclusion in classes for differently abled children is thought to breed empathy in younger children who do not require learning plans. This may ultimately result in reduction of hazing or teasing at later ages, since children have had the advantage of being classmates of students of different abilities or with significant medical issues, since early elementary school.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon251371 — On Feb 29, 2012

I understand all of your frustrations. Any school that says there is no such thing as a 504 plan is lying. It's federally mandated, but it may be a district thing that is done rather than at the school site. It really depends on how large your district is.

I have a son on a 504 and am pushing for the IEP. He has been diagnosed as ADHD with an anxiety disorder. The school was fighting me on the IEP, so I caved and went with the 504. Big mistake. I should have gone to the district level on that one. My son is medicated, but because of how severe his ADHD is, his impulsive issues get the better of him and oddly enough, he's the only one who is ever at fault in any behavioral incident. Amazing isn't it? He doesn't have behavioral issues in the classroom, only at recess and at lunch, where there is one supervision aide to three classes of students (assuming that only one grade is out at a time.)

Parents, when it all comes down to it, schools are no longer child centered, they are teacher centered. They are no longer focused on students with special needs and helping them improve, they are focused on getting the "average" kids to be sensational, so their school looks good in the papers. Am I harsh? Probably, but that is because I'm a frustrated parent, and special education teacher.

Yes, you read right. I know the laws, I know how our students should be treated, and some states are more child centered than others, but we have to be the advocates for our students, we have to be "that" parent. This is the only way our children are going to get the help they need. And even then, maybe I should just homeschool.

By anon172752 — On May 04, 2011

I have heard that putting a child on a 504 plan in school is considered being "classified", and this sigma/status will stay with him throughout their entire entire academic career. Once classified, they remain classified. Is this correct?

By anon160072 — On Mar 14, 2011

My 11 year old was diagnosed with adhd and his school just suspends him. his psychologist wrote a script for the 504 plan to be implemented for me to give to the behavior specialist at his school and they told me there is no such thing as a behavior 504 on academic.

They also stated he does not need to be on 504 plan because he passed fcat with no problem (hello he was medicated) they informed me on friday he does not need 504 and they won't implement it due to there is no need academically.

please help i read that there are 504 behavior plans but school says there is no such. He has been suspended five times alone this year for aggressive behavior they call it, but my son is 5 feet and 120 lbs. he is bigger than other 5th graders because he was held back because of his behavior. anything he does to another student even if both are playing, someone is going to see as aggressive behavior.

By anon133521 — On Dec 11, 2010

They *can* and *do* suspend kids for behaviors that are symptoms from their brain issues! They've done it to mine! I kid you not on this one: The bell did a half-ring by accident. My son tried to jump out of his seat but missed. It make a loud "thud" and he fell out of his seat. He laughed uncontrollably. They suspended him for the day with some stupid excuse.

And for those who say, "It's not right for your child to continue to disrupt the learning of others [who] deserve to learn in an involvement that's free of behavior distractions," that's the exact argument for not mainstreaming "normal" kids from disabled. Honestly, I'd rather separate mine from mainstreamed kids, because I'm tired of mainstreamers picking on special needs kids!

Tell you what: I'll push for my disruptive kid to be separated from mainstreamers, as long as you teach your mainstreamed kids to not ever pick on special needs kids, calling them "bad" and such!

By anon113156 — On Sep 23, 2010

I have a 13 year old that has a 504 for ADHD diagnosed by his doctor. The school calls on a daily basis that he is dancing in class, falls out of his chair, talking, laughing, won't sit still, disruptive on and on. Assigned Saturday school, no dances allowed, after school service, kicked out of class, locked out for not being in his chair when the bell rang.

I have had it but don't know what to do! Now they want my his Dad and I to go shadow him and see what it is that he is doing. I don't need to shadow him to know what he is like. Why the heck do you think I took him to the doctor for the ADHD problem in the first place.

I can't medicate him. He was super depressed on the meds and was saying I hate my life etc., so we took him off and he is back to his hyper but very happy wild self.

I have him in baseball, dancing hip hop, he rides bikes etc. He is just hyper. They keep threatening to kick him out of the school and send him to a school for the bad kids. I didn't think they could do that because he has the 504. Help!

By anon43952 — On Sep 03, 2009

Is life ever free of distractions? Whether it is the asthmatic coughing of a child, or the inattention, mumbling, or tics of another, children will always be subject to them. They will experience this all the way through high school, into college and in real life. 504 is about honoring non-discrimination and finding means for any child with difficulty to compete with peers. The benefit is that those peers have the opportunity to learn that not everyone behaves in the same manner. This clearly does not mean that a child who poses a threat to another child should remain in a class and part of any good plan is determining how to serve the school and the students together. But honestly, show some mercy. Perhaps thank God this is not your child and you are not the one dealing with the heartbreaking issues that are at hand if a child has a 504, or are you advocating reinstitution of "separate but equal" schooling? Should the behavior of a child be commented on by your child, talking to a teacher about the issue and arriving at a solution is often possible.

By anon42184 — On Aug 19, 2009

It's not right for your child to continue to disrupt the learning of others, just because he is sick. Others deserve to learn in an involvement that's free of behavor distractions.

By anon17256 — On Aug 25, 2008

If you know that your son "has several problems brain lesion, seizures, and asthma he also has behavioral problems" and if your school knows that he does, I would find someone to speak on behalf of your child... Schools cannot kick children with special needs out of school for symptoms of their disabilities.

By anon3521 — On Sep 03, 2007

my son has several problems brain lesion, seizures, and asthma he also has behavioral problems i am trying to get the 504 started but on Thursday i was told if he has to go to the office again they will suspend him and i am scared to send him back to school now what do i do?

By anon2814 — On Jul 26, 2007

my 17 year old senior was just diagnosed with inattentive ADHD. I know little about what plan I should put in place for him and how to implement the 504 at the school, any advice?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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