The difference between an IEP and 504 Plan

Warning!!! We are getting a little technical today. It’s not that often that we get into the nitty gritty technical stuff with the fancy wording…

It’s funny really because when I worked in the school county we would sit in meetings, throwing around these terms, not realizing it was like a foreign language to parents who did not make a living sitting in meetings going over individualized education plans (IEP’s) on a regular basis. At the time that was my life…but now I get to sit on the other side of the table advocating for my clients and their kiddos.

And as a parent, I realize how frustrating it is to have all these technical terms thrown around and have NO CLUE what the heck anyone is talking about…so let’s break it down.

Please do excuse all the fancy-schmancy talk today. Sometimes we need to get down to business and it is important to know the difference between an IEP and 504 plan. After you read this, comment below and et us know: does your child have an IEP or 504 plan? Do you think they need one? Okay…let’s dive in…

What is IDEA?
IDEA stands for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. IDEA covers students who qualify for special education. If a student is found to have (aka “qualifies” as having) a disability, then they are eligible to receive special education and/or related services (e.g., speech-language therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, etc). Every child attending a public school program that is found eligible to receive special education services must have an IEP or an individualized education plan.

What is an IEP?
According to the Department of Education and IEP is an individualized education plan that is created when a student meets the IDEA guidelines, qualifying them for special education because they have one of the specified types of disabilities. Note the term “individual” as each child’s school plan, should be specific to their needs. The goal of the services on an IEP are to help a child succeed in the school setting (academically, socially and in extra-curricular activities).

What is a 504 Plan?
According to the Department of Education a “Section 504” or “504 plan” (these terms are used interchangeably) is a broad federal civil rights law that protects all individuals with a handicap. Often times if a child does not qualify for special education services under IDEA (with an IEP) they may still qualify for assistance through a 504 plan.

So what’s the difference between an IEP and a 504 plan?
Students who qualify under section 504 must have a 504 plan that outlines the services to be provided. Some students will also qualify under the more stringent IDEA. These students will have an IEP (Individualized Educational Plan) rather than a 504 plan.

Further, a child with a 504 plan does not qualify for “special education” services but may still receive some supports as they may require specific accommodations in the classroom to help them succeed along side their peers (e.g., extended time on tests or other accommodations).

How are an IEP and 504 plan the same?
They both strive to make sure children with disabilities are successful in the public school environment. The goal is to provide every child with a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) as required by law.

Can you have both?
No. If you don’t qualify for an IEP you may qualify for a 504 plan, but you cannot qualify for both.

If you have further questions about the differences, let us know in the comments below. We are here to serve you and your little (or big!) sprout! 🙂

With Love,