Designing 504 Plans to Promote Equity and Inclusion: Parents as Partners with Schools

Presented at the 2019 Special Education Conference by Kathy Murphy, Section 504 Specialist, Donna Desaulniers, Manager, School Psychology Services, and Kristen Biernesser, Resource Counselor, School Counseling Services

Participants will learn about:

  • the role of student self- advocacy within the 504 process
  • how to be an effective advocate for your child
  • the purpose and process of Section 504
  • development of accommodations and services
  • communicating for effective partnering with schools


First, think of a positive experience that you have had with your child’s school.

Then, turn to a neighbor and share what made this a positive experience.

[Original presentation includes a picture of three elementary-aged students walking together in a school hallway.]

Equity: Promoting Inclusion by Meeting Individual Needs

We know that many of you have had positive overall experiences with your child’s school. Today we hope to help you build on those positive experiences by providing additional information and strategies for partnership before, during and after 504 Plan meetings.

The concept of equity is at the heart of Section 504. Our goal is to be able to understand each child’s unique disability related needs so that an equitable Plan can be developed that will provide your child the opportunity to fairly participate in an inclusive environment. Equality and Equity are not the same. Treating all people equally means giving them the exact same tools and resources, regardless of their needs. When we change that to an equity lens, we see that with some tailoring of the tools, resources and accommodations, we can both address individual needs and promote inclusion.

[Original presentation includes a graphic, entitled “Equality,” of four individuals all attempting to ride the same size/type of bicycle.    A tall man is hunched over while he is riding (the bicycle is too small for him), a child is straining to reach the pedals (the bicycle is too big for the child), and a person who is seated in a wheelchair is sitting next to the bicycle (the bicycle does not appropriately support this person). The fourth person pictured - a woman - is able to use this particular bicycle without accommodations. Below this graphic is a second graphic entitled “Equity,” in which the man, woman, child, and person who was previously seated in a wheelchair all are riding different bicycles that accommodate them based on their size/needs.]

Student Voice

One of the ways to ensure equity is by making sure that STUDENT VOICE is present in the process of decision-making for their education.

[Original presentation includes a picture of a young girl smiling and holding out her arms, in front of a microphone, and a picture of a young boy seated at his desk reading aloud into a microphone.]

Self-Advocacy is...

  • Speaking up for yourself.
  • Based on self-awareness.
  • Using effective communication skills.
  • Self Advocacy requires knowledge of personal strengths, preferences, needs and rights (self-awareness)
  • Self Advocacy involves acting in an assertive and appropriate manner to make your needs and desires known to others. (effective communication)

Self-Advocacy is not...

  • Doing it all yourself without the help of others.
  • Having all of the answers.

It is about asking the right questions.

Components of Self-Advocacy

Self-Advocacy starts with developmentally appropriate self-awareness, and also involves good communications skills.

Student Self-Awareness

  • Exploring personal interests, strengths and challenges
  • Knowing the difference between wants and needs
  • Making choices based on interests, strengths and needs
  • Identifying and setting goal

View the I'm Determined One-Pager Template

Disability Awareness

  • The student’s disability does not define them
  • Know what the disability is
  • Understanding and accepting the impact of the disability
  • Identify accommodations that work

Remember, an accommodation does not change WHAT you learn, it changes HOW you learn.

  • Accepting a disability may take time
  • This is focused on the student’s understanding of self. The Parent Resource Center (PRC) is a great resource to learn more about this.

Supporting Disability Awareness

Encourage identification of

  • Strengths
  • Things they know how to do well
  • Things they enjoy doing
  • Things they have done that they are proud of
  • Talents
  • Things they have learned
  • Positive personality traits


  • The ability to effectively use communication skills such as negotiation, compromise, and persuasion is critical to becoming a successful self-advocate.
  • The foundational skills of labeling, expressing, and regulating emotions contribute to effective communication.

What strategies do you and your child use in negotiation, compromise, and persuasion?
Asking questions to get what you want, how to demonstrate what you are thinking.
Here is a great strategy, SLANT: Sit up, lean in, ask questions, nod, track the speaker.
When labeling emotions we are talking about child’s emotional vocabulary or emotional literacy.
Can you and your child list 10 words of happiness or sadness?
How successful is your child at expressing emotions at school and home?
Does it look the same or different across environments?
How does your child’s emotional literacy impact communication both in the receiving of information and the expression of thoughts and information?
[Picture of a tree as it is reflected in a body of water.]
Think of something that you will do after today’s session to support your child in growing their self-awareness, communication, and self- advocacy.

Putting it all together: 504 Plan contents and purpose

A student's 504 Plan details modifications, accommodations, and services that are needed for the student with a disability to participate in and enjoy the benefits of school programs at the same level as his peers without disabilities.
8 VAC 20-671-10

The student’s growing ability to effectively self-advocate is vital to the development of an appropriate, effective 504 Plan.

Defining Accommodation

When providing an accommodation to a student with a disability, we are:

Adjusting or adapting the way a student might typically be expected to access any programs and services provided by the school division – in order to remove disability-related barriers.

It’s not about changing the standards learned but how the student may need some adjustment to access their learning. We need to be focused on how to address disability related barriers. We are not taking away all challenges, or attempting to set up a situation in which a child faces no difficulties, but when we select appropriate accommodations, we are ensuring that we are not discriminating against a student based on their disability.

Accommodation Categories

  • Presentation: change how an assignment, lecture or assessment is delivered
  • Response: allow student to complete work in different ways/formats
  • Setting: change the location or the conditions in which the work is delivered/completed
  • Timing/scheduling: adjust the length of time, or the way time is organized, for an assignment or assessment

These are examples of INSTRUCTIONAL accommodation categories. Accommodations can be in place for non-instructional reasons as well (e.g., facilities access, after-school activities or field trips, etc.)

Eliminating Disability-Related Barriers to FCPS Programs and Activities

Accommodations, modifications and services apply not only to a student’s academic needs, but can relate to any access-related barriers the student faces based on their disability.


  • A student with a physical disability may require the use of an elevator
  • A student with a severe food allergy may require detailed information regarding the school lunch menu
  • A student with depression may require adult check-ins and other supports to assist with their emotional stability and ability to focus

Applying the Problem-Solving Process

  • Problem Identification: What is the problem? (Define Disability/Limitation)
  • Problem Analysis: Why is the problem occurring? (Understand Needs)
  • 504 Plan Design: What are we going to do about the problem? (Address Needs & Eliminate Barriers)
  • 504 Plan Implementation and Monitoring: Have we done what we said we would? (Are Student’s Needs Being Addressed?)

The Role of Parents in the Problem Solving Process

By asking questions, as your child’s champion, you can support the team’s ability to create a highly effective 504 Plan.
Parent’s role is to ask questions to help clarify understanding and shape the group discussion.

Here are some examples of questions you may want to ask:

  • What does my child need to access the educational environment?
  • Who will likely be able to support me and my child in understanding both the process and how the accommodations can be helpful?
  • When is it most appropriate to raise concerns or issues?
  • Where is an accommodation needed that allows my child to fully access the educational environment?
  • How will the needed accommodations be provided?

The Role of the Student in the Problem Solving Process

[Picture of a student at a table with parents and teachers, providing feedback during his 504 Plan meeting.]

Examples of how your student can contribute to his or her 504 Plan meeting:

  • Creates invitation to staff
  • Makes a list of strengths and challenges
  • Practices role in the meeting
  • Shares examples of work
  • Shares ideas of what works well for them
  • Participates in discussion of accommodations
  • Provides feedback on accommodation implementation
  • Leads the meeting
  • Create a power point or notebook to bring to the meeting

Giving your child the opportunity to have a voice doesn't necessarily mean that he or she will be participating for the entire meeting. It may start as a conversation with your student prior to the meeting, or it may mean attending for 5 minutes to share their experience. As the student matures and is ready for additional participation, the goal could be for the student to participate in most or all of the meeting.


Think about something that you have learned today that will help you and your child have a positive experience when partnering to develop effective 504 Plans.

Consider sharing your new thoughts and strategies with an adult who teaches or works with your child, or with another parent or friend.


FCPS and Community Resources

504 Plan Meetings: Quick Tips for Parents

Before the Meeting:

  • Work with your child’s 504 case manager to set a mutually-agreeable date and time for the meeting.
  • Gather together relevant documents (e.g., medical or other evaluation reports, etc.).
  • Inform the case manager if you are planning for additional person(s) to attend the meeting with you.
  • Talk with your child about what is working well and areas in which he or she might need additional support.
  • Decide on your/your child’s top 2 or 3 priorities that you want to be sure are covered during the meeting.

During the Meeting:

  • Support your child’s participation in the 504 Plan meeting, whenever possible.
  • Ask the committee members to introduce themselves (if they haven’t already) and identify their role/expertise.
  • Ask the team to use the 504 Plan Meeting Agenda if it has not yet been distributed.
  • Focus on active listening.
  • Focus on your child’s unique strengths, weaknesses and disability-related needs.
  • Remember that the 504 Plan document is not an “insurance policy” for your child. The purpose of the document is to include all accommodations and services that are necessary (required) for your child to have the equal opportunity to participate in FCPS programs and activities, including the academic program.

After the Meeting:

  • Talk with your child about how he or she feels about the 504 Plan accommodations.
  • Give the school time to take data on the accommodations and “work the plan.”
  • Ask the case manager to share any follow-up information with you regarding your child’s 504 Plan.
  • Keep the lines of communication open.    We all do better when we presume positive intentions in others and notice/thank them for their sincere efforts.
  • At any time, the school or the family have the right to request that the knowledgeable committee reconvene to revisit the 504 Plan and make any necessary changes.

Presenter Contact Information: