If you or your child is struggling with the demands of school due to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), it may be helpful to inquire about a 504 plan. That’s an important tool for ensuring students with disabilities get the same educational benefits as other kids.
What Is a 504 Plan?
A 504 plan is a document drawn up by an educational institution that outlines any necessary accommodations and modifications that a student with a disability needs. The name comes from Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 which was enacted to protect disabled people from discrimination.
Section 504 applies to any employer or organization that receives federal financial assistance and thus applies to any educational program or institution that receives funds from the U.S. Department of Education. Most schools and universities are required to comply with this law.
Who Is Covered?
Section 504 offers protection to disabled individuals in a manner consistent with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). To qualify, you must have a “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.”
Similar to the ADA, you’re covered under Section 504 if you have a history of, or are regarded as having, such an impairment. In this way, the episodic nature of IBS symptoms will not preclude you from being covered by Section 504.
504 Plan vs. Special Ed
The 504 plan does not involve special education services. Special education falls under a different law—the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which requires the use of an Individualized Education Plan (IEP).
How Do You Obtain a 504 Plan?
In order to obtain a 504 plan, contact your school authorities and ask for the staff member who coordinates these plans. You will be required to:
- Show medical evidence of an IBS diagnosis
- Say how IBS interferes with the demands of school
- Help determine what accommodations need to be made
What Accommodations Can Be Made?
Modifications and accommodations will be determined by the student’s individual needs. Here are some possible modifications specific to the challenges of IBS:
- A bathroom pass to be used at will
- Access to bathrooms that are closest to their classrooms, which may include the nurse’s bathroom or staff bathrooms
- Keys to any bathrooms that are kept locked
- If anxiety triggers IBS symptoms, modifications that allow spacing out tests and special projects
- A modified schedule if morning symptoms mean the student needs a later school start time
- School assistance with missed assignments due to IBS-related absences
- School-provided home tutoring or instruction if symptoms prevent attendance
- No penalties for IBS-related absences, tardiness, or leaving early
How Can You File a Complaint?
Complaints about discrimination under Section 504 are handled by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights (OCR). You can contact the OCR:
- By phone: 1-800-368-1019 (voice) or 1-800-537-7697 (TDD)
- Online: How to File a Complaint