What’s the Difference Between an IEP and a 504 Plan?


504 Plan vs IEP

Quite often, parents in our Facebook 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.

So what is the 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.

504 vs IEP chart

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

IEP vs 504 Plan 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 school.Recourse is an OCR complaint.
Per IDEA, requires that the parent be an active member of IEP team.No parental input required. School can develop 504 without parents.
Per IDEA, requires that the child be re-evaluated every 2-3 years.Evaluations much less comprehensive
Has a component of progress monitoring of the student.No progress monitoring.
Is centered around functional and academic goals.No goals.

Those are the basics.

IEP vs 504 Chart

Just like our kids, many of you are visual learners. I hope that those two charts outlining the differences between a 504 vs an IEP are helpful. Still, read on to get more information so you can make the right decision for your child.

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 Plan Explained

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

504 Plan vs IEP

  • Key Differences Between Section 504 and IDEA– from Wrightslaw. This one is one of my favorites. Read number 4: Section 504 has fewer procedural safeguards to protect the parent and child. That is essential. Especially with our current political climate and talk of major cuts to the Office of Civil Rights, you want to have as many protections as your child needs.

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 showing 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.


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 Facebook 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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