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IEP vs. 504 Plans

Individual education plans (IEPs) and 504 plans

What is an IEP?

An IEP is an individual education plan, which is part of the special education laws of the IDEA 97 laws or educational benefit laws. IDEA allows for additional services and protections for disabled children not offered to other children such as accommodations, modifications, related and special education services to allow the child to be successful in school.

What is a 504 plan?

Section 504, of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Section 504 ensures that a child with a disability has equal access to an education. The child may receive accommodations and modifications even if he or she does not qualify for special education. Any school or program receiving federal funds must follow this law.

What are the similarities between the two plans?

Both plans can provide the student with certain accommodations and modifications to allow a disabled child to be more successful in school. Related services can be provided for students on either plan, such as occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech and language therapy. Neither plan requires the student to have a change of placement. The child may stay in a regular classroom.

What are the main differences between the two?

A student receiving Special Education through an IEP is protected under all Section 504 laws. The opposite is not true.

Section 504 does require the school to come up with a system of safeguards such as:

*Parental notice of evaluation or placement decision

*Parental review of records

*Impartial hearing for appeals.

IEP (SPED) has a more elaborate system of safeguards to protect the parent and child, such as:

*Prior Written Notice of all evaluations, changes to IEP and placement changes


Arbitration or mediation if the parent and school do not agree on the plan

*Administrative Complaint Process

*Due Process Hearing

A 504 plan includes only accommodations, modification, and related services as needed. It does not allow for direct or indirect services with the student, or consultation services regarding the student between the special education teacher and regular education teachers. IEP does provide for services through special education teachers with the student and consultation with the regular classroom teachers.

IEP and 504 plans


Qualifying for Special Education and an IEP

Special education allows a child to have an individual education plan (IEP) when the child's disability interferes with the student's education and performance. Special Education is available for all children that qualify from age 3 through age 21 or upon graduation from high school, whichever comes first.

If a parent feels their child requires special education, the first step is to contact the school the child is attending and explain what how you feel your child's disability will affect education.

The next step is the evaluation, which will include

If the child is qualified as "other health impaired" it does not require that testing be perforemed to show a learning disability. However, this does require proof, from your physician, of a medical disability that affects the child's education.

After the evaluation is completed, the team will meet. The team consists of the parent, the student ( if he/she is at least 14 years old), regular education teacher, a LEA representative which is usually the principal, and a representative from any area that the child was tested in ( i.e. speech pathologist, occupational therapist, psychologist). The parent may bring an advocate, such as a more experienced parent, to this and all team meetings. At the team meeting, all findings will be reviewed, including the teacher's observations, the physician's information, and any testing that has been completed The parent may share any literature they have on the child's disability and how it will affect him or her in school at this time.

After discussing the findings, the team will make a decision on eligibility. The student will meet the criteria for qualification for special education under one of the eligible categories.





IEP and 504 plans 5



US Office of Education Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services (OSERS)



Federal Resource Center for Special Education






504 plans also allow for related services as needed such as:

*Occupational therapy

*Physical Therapy

*Speech and Language Therapy

*Audiology Services

The final modifications and accommodations will be individualized, according to the specific state regulations.

At the post-secondary level, the school is required to provide students with appropriate academic adjustments and auxiliary services necessary to provide an individual with a disability an equal opportunity to participate in the school's program.


Section 504 Plan


What to do if a disabled student’s 504 plan is denied or not being followed?


Qualifying for a 504 Plan


First, try to resolve the problem with the school. If that fails, then the parent can contact the superintendent of the school system. If the school or the administration of the school system does not resolve the problem, the parent may request a hearing. Section 504 requires school districts to conduct impartial hearings for parents who disagree with identification, evaluation, or placement. Under Section 504, the parent has an opportunity to participate and obtain representation by counsel. Other details are left to the discretion of the school district.


Eligibility for a 504 plan requires a physical or mental disability which substantially limits at least one major life activity i.e. walking, writing, speaking, eating. If the child is qualified for an IEP the parent cannot legally choose to use a 504 plan instead.

The first step is to contact the school the student is attending. Most schools will evaluate a student to see if the student will qualify for special education first. If the child does not meet eligibility criteria for special education, the school will evaluate for a 504 plan. The team will get information from the parents, classroom teachers, attending physician, and more, depending on the impairment.

A 504 plan allows for many accommodations and modifications depending on the exact disability

Here are some examples:

*Unlimited Bathroom breaks

*Alternative arrangement at lunchtime and snack times for non-eaters

*Tests taken at separate location

*Time limits waived or extended

*Education for other students regarding the child's disability

*The use of a word processor

*Taped material

*Tests/Reports given orally


*Shortened assignments

*Copy of class notes provided

*Preferential seating


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