Inside: Learn the key differences between a 504 and an IEP, so you can make the right decision for your child.

Quite often, parents in our online chat group will ask what is the difference between an IEP and a 504.

Some schools will try to push the family toward a 504 plan instead of an IEP; some will even suggest that the student get both an IEP and a 504.

504 Plan vs IEP

So what is the correct information? How do you know what to do–do you keep pushing for an IEP, or take the 504 Plan? I hope to clear up some of the confusion for you.

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IEP vs 504 Chart

IEP504 Plan
Is an individualized education plan for the student; is special educationIs only a list of items that the child needs to “access” their education; gen ed only
Has Procedural Safeguards in case parents do not agree with the school.Recourse is an OCR complaint.
Per IDEA, requires that the parent be an active member of IEP team.No parental input is required. Schools can develop 504 without parents.
Per IDEA, requires that the child be re-evaluated every 2-3 years.Evaluations are much less comprehensive
Has a component of progress monitoring of the student.No progress monitoring.
Is centered around functional and academic goals.No goals.

Just like our kids, many of you are visual learners. I hope that these two charts outlining the differences between a 504 vs an IEP are helpful.

IEP vs 504 Plan Chart
This IEP vs 504 Plan chart can help visualize the differences and similarities.

Still, read on to get more information so you can make the right decision for your child.

Here are some of the key differences between an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) and a 504 Plan.

Difference Between an IEP and a 504 Plan

Here are 10 differences between an IEP and a 504 plan.

  1. Eligibility: To qualify for an IEP, a student must have a disability that adversely affects their educational performance and requires specialized instruction. To qualify for a 504 plan, a student must have a disability that substantially limits one or more major life activities.
  2. Evaluation: An IEP requires a comprehensive evaluation by a team of professionals, while a 504 plan requires an evaluation that looks at the student’s medical history, academic performance, and any other relevant information to determine if the student meets the eligibility criteria.
  3. Goals: An IEP includes specific academic and functional goals for the student, while a 504 plan does not.
  4. Services: An IEP includes specialized instruction and related services, such as speech therapy or occupational therapy, while a 504 plan provides accommodations and modifications to address the student’s individual needs.
  5. Development: An IEP is developed by a team of professionals, including the student’s parents, teachers, and other experts, while a 504 plan is developed by a team that includes the student’s parents, teachers, and other relevant school staff.
  6. Implementation: An IEP is a legally binding document that must be implemented by the school district. A 504 plan is also legally binding, however, there are fewer options for parents if it there are 504 plan violations.
  7. Review: An IEP is reviewed and revised annually, while a 504 plan is reviewed periodically, typically every three years or when there is a significant change in the student’s needs.
  8. Coverage: An IEP is covered under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), while a 504 plan is covered under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
  9. Scope: An IEP covers all aspects of the student’s education, including academic, social, and emotional needs, while a 504 plan focuses on addressing the student’s disability-related needs.
  10. Appeals: Parents have the right to file a due process complaint and appeal an IEP decision, while there is no formal appeal process for a 504 plan.

504 Plan vs. IEP

Tell me if you’ve heard this one from your IEP team: “We have to move him to a 504.”

Most importantly, there are no “have-tos.” What I mean by that, is that quite often, I hear that parents were told, “We have to move him to a 504.”

The reasons for this vary. I’ve heard everything from losing funding to having passing grades to not being able to get into college.

Yes, if your child has either a 504/IEP now, they may very well need a 504 in college. That is something that happens in transition, and should have no bearing on what the child receives now.

What affects what your child receives now, is what they need right now. If they need special education services, then they need an IEP. Sometimes until the day they graduate. They can then still get a 504 after graduation.

IEP Basics

An IEP stands for Individualized Education Plan/Program. It is governed by the federal statute IDEA and implemented by states, then local districts. (LEA)

An IEP is special education. You cannot separate out the two. If your child has an IEP, they are receiving special education. If they are receiving special education, they must have an IEP.

IEPs have goals, mandated IEP team members, a defined set of procedural safeguards or parents’ rights and more.

iep files scattered on a desk

504 Plans

A 504 plan has none of those things. A 504 plan can be developed and changed without the parents’ input.

If things are not going well, you have little recourse–no procedural safeguards.

A 504 plan is a document for gen ed, it does not provide special education. There are no goals or progress monitoring.

does your adhd child need a 504

What is an IEP Plan vs a 504 Plan?

A 504 Education Plan was never intended to be an “IEP Lite.” Yet this is a trend that’s been going on for a while. IEPs and 504s are very different documents. And 504s were never intended to be an “IEP Lite.” They also were never intended to be a “pre-IEP” or a “Let’s try a 504 first.” Separate. Documents.

But that’s what is happening. If you feel you are being talked into this and your gut is telling you otherwise, push back. Request the IEP evaluations.

Avoiding the extensive evaluations, supports and related services that comes with an IEP is a cost-cutting measure.

iep process flow chart
Also Read: Can you have both an IEP and a 504?

Technically, yes. But there’s no reason for it. The New Hampshire Dept of Education states on their website that you cannot have both a 504 and an IEP. I don’t know that any other state has that state-specific regulation about an IEP and a 504.

It just doesn’t make sense to have both–to have some protections and some parent participation rights for parts of your child’s accommodations, but not all the parts? Make sense?

If your child has or needs an IEP, you get an IEP. And, if for some of their disabilities, they only need accommodations, you just list those on the IEP.

I have dozens of articles about 504 plans on this site. Use the search bar on the right, or there should be some additional information shown below. And of course, I have hundreds of articles about IEPs, because they are a much more complex beast.

What services are available for students with disabilities under Section 504?

This is directly from the OCR website:

Section 504 requires recipients to provide to students with disabilities appropriate educational services designed to meet the individual needs of such students to the same extent as the needs of students without disabilities are met. An appropriate education for a student with a disability under the Section 504 regulations could consist of education in regular classrooms, education in regular classes with supplementary services, and/or special education and related services.

How are an IEP and a 504 Plan the same?

A 504 plan and an Individualized Education Program (IEP) are both educational plans designed to provide support and accommodations to students with disabilities. While there are similarities between the two, they have distinct differences. Here are some key similarities between a 504 plan and an IEP:

  1. Legal Framework: Both the 504 plan and the IEP are established under federal laws in the United States. The 504 plan is governed by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, while the IEP is mandated by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
  2. Purpose: Both plans aim to ensure that students with disabilities have equal access to education and receive appropriate support and accommodations to help them succeed academically.
  3. Eligibility: To qualify for a 504 plan or an IEP, a student must have a documented disability that substantially limits one or more major life activities, including learning. However, the level of impact required for eligibility may differ. The IEP has more specific eligibility criteria, requiring the disability to adversely affect educational performance and necessitate specialized instruction.
  4. Documentation: Both plans involve formal documentation outlining the student’s needs and accommodations. The documentation typically includes evaluations, assessments, and input from various stakeholders, such as parents, teachers, and specialists.
  5. Accommodations and Support: Both the 504 plan and the IEP provide accommodations and support tailored to the student’s needs. These may include modifications to the curriculum, adjustments to the learning environment, assistive technology, additional time for assignments or exams, preferential seating, or specialized instruction.
  6. Review and Reevaluation: Both plans require periodic review and reevaluation to assess the student’s progress, determine the effectiveness of the accommodations, and make any necessary adjustments.

Despite these similarities, there are notable differences between a 504 plan and an IEP. The primary distinction lies in the level of services and individualization provided:

  1. Services: The IEP provides specialized educational services, such as individualized instruction, related services (e.g., speech therapy, occupational therapy), and sometimes even placement in a special education program. In contrast, a 504 plan focuses on accommodations and support within the general education setting.
  2. Individualization: An IEP is highly individualized, outlining specific goals, objectives, and measurable outcomes for the student’s education. It includes a detailed plan for the delivery of specialized services and progress monitoring. A 504 plan is generally less detailed and provides broader accommodations without specifying individualized goals or services.

It’s important to consult with the school or educational professionals to determine the most appropriate plan for a student based on their unique needs and circumstances.

Getting an IEP instead of a 504

I have a whole separate article on what your next steps should be if you asked for an IEP and were offered a 504 plan (or RTI or MTSS) instead. Read that for your next steps.

As always, you are always welcome to join our chat group and ask your specific questions there.

Here’s that 504 booklet I promised you above.

And here is some helpful information from the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund.

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