IEP and 504 Plans
What is the difference between an IEP and a 504 Plan?
Both plans area designed to provide accommodations and support to children who need it while in school. Even though in many ways these two plans are very similar, there are some very distinct differences to make note of as well.
Both provide a blueprint for the educational experience of a child
Both are at no cost to the parents
Both provide a list of accommodations and services that will be needed for the child
Both address the needs of the child brought on by a form of a disability
Both create a list of needed accommodations for the child
Parental consent is required for both plans
Both plans address ways for parents to resolve discrepancies found with the school and the accommodations being provided
An IEP is part of Special Education Services, a 504 plan is not
An IEP applies under IDEA, a 504 plan is part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
To qualify for an IEP a student has one or more of the 13 specific disabilities listed in IDEA and the disabilities affect the child’s educational performance, a 504 plan has a broader definition of a disability and can be applied to students who are able to continue in a general education classroom and don’t qualify for an IEP
An IEP has very strict rules and requirements for who can create the plan, the 504 plan is much less specific and can make the evaluation
An IEP is very specific, sets goals, ensures progress, and spells out the accommodations needed, the 504 plan spells out the accommodations but is not standardized
AN IEP must be reviewed at least once a year, a 504 plan is to be reviewed as needed or more often depending on the rules of the state
Understanding the differences between the two plans can help parents know what plan is going to best work for their child. Some students will benefit more from an IEP than a 504 plan while others will perform with only minimal accommodations to ensure they can enjoy the learning environment of the general education setting.
What is an IEP?
An Individualized Education Program (IEP) is a legal document which is designed to completely spell out the learning plan, needs, progress expected and accommodations a child will receive in order to improve their learning capabilities throughout the school year. An IEP is a legally binding document and requires the school to provide everything it promises in the document.
By law an IEP must include:
A Statement of the child’s present level of performance (PLOP) – how the child is currently performing in school
The child’s annual educational goals
Special education support and services that the school will provide to help the child reach their goals
Modifications and accommodations the school will provide to help the child make progress
Accommodations the child will be allowed when taking standardized tests
How and when the school will measure the child’s progress toward the annual goals
Transition planning to help prepare teens for life after high school
An IEP is part of the special education process and is necessary for students to receive needed special education services through the school. Not all students who struggle with school will necessarily be approved or require and IEP. There are two actions that must be taken in order to qualify a child for an IEP; an evaluation and a decision. The evaluation is conducted by an IEP team after consulting with parents, teachers, a counselor or a doctor who may see the child is struggling to keep up in school. The decision to implement an IEP is done with an IEP team made of up parents and school officials who decide the child needs and will benefit from the use of special education services through the use of an IEP. The evaluation and decision making process can be lengthy in nature and take time to implement, but once an IEP is in place, the child is to be afforded all accommodations spelled out in the IEP by law.
What is a 504 Plan?
A 504 plan is an alternative method of offering accommodations to students who do not qualify for an IEP. This type of plan falls under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and prohibits discrimination against students with disabilities who are able to learn from and participate in the general education curriculum. A 504 plan outlines measures taken to accommodate children and remove barriers to learning for children who need accommodations but can still perform in a general education setting.
Because Section 504 defines “disability” in very broad terms those who don’t qualify for an IEP may qualify for a 504 plan. Section 504 defines a person with a disability to be a person who:
Has a physical or mental impairment that “substantially” limits one or more major life activity
Has a record of the impairment
Is regarded as having impairment or a significant difficulty that isn’t temporary.
Qualification for a 504 plan requires an evaluation which can be initiated by the parent or the school. Before the school can initiate the evaluation they must receive permission from the parent to conduct a 504 evaluation.
With no standard 504 plan required by law each school district handles these plans a little differently from each other. The following should be included in a 504 plan in order to ensure the child will be able to succeed and have their needs met:
Specific accommodations, support or services
Names of the school professional that will provide each service
The name of the person responsible for ensuring the 504 plan is implemented
In general a 504 plan can provide a wide range of accommodations and services including specialized instruction, physical accommodations, speech therapy, occupational therapy or counseling. As a much less detailed plan than an IEP, a 504 is much simpler to implement and works to give parents a peace of mind their child will be accommodated as needed.