504 Plan vs IEP

I have lots of friends who are teachers. One of the many reasons that I am such a huge teacher advocate is because of the stories I hear from them. They do want to help you and your child. But often cannot risk their jobs. In particular, when it comes to an IEP or 504 plan, they want to speak up but can’t.

One time I had a conversation with a friend who told me that at a Faculty Meeting, they were told, “We can’t be evaluating all these kids all the time. RTI them.”

So there you have it. In some cases, teachers are being told in no uncertain terms: If you think a child needs IEP evaluations, don’t refer them. RTI them.

That being said, there are many situations where  RTI or a 504 is completely appropriate and all the child needs. I just see this offer of RTI or a 504 as a stalling technique, and it’s abused. All the data shows that if a child has a learning disability and needs specialized instruction, the longer that instruction is delayed, the harder it is for them to catch up.

Offering a 504 or RTI when a parent has asked for an IEP is common. This practice has a few cousins, including “His grades are fine, he doesn’t need an IEP” and “IEPs are only for academics.”

So what should you do? Where do you start?

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

What is an IEP or 504 Plan?

Here are the basic differences between an IEP and 504s. These are the basics and are not black and white issues. For example, schools do have to ‘evaluate’ a child for a 504 plan, but it’s not the same as with an IEP. Same with procedural safeguards. They exist, but are not as robust.

What I want the main takeaway to be is this: 504s were never intended to be a “pre IEP” or an “IEP lite” but that is what is happening.

difference between an iep and a 504 plan chart

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.

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 evaluations, supports and related services that come with an IEP is a cost-cutting measure.

There is already quite a bit out there on the internet about the differences between IEPs and 504s. No need to reinvent the wheel. So I am going to share with you some of the best resources, and highlight their explanations.

IEP or 504 Plan


504-vs-IEP-booklet


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 have seen both, and you can also find more information about it online. Most experts argue against it. It’s redundant.

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.

RTI vs. 504 vs. IEP

I encourage all moms to always go with your gut. That means if you’ve been offered a 504 or RTI as a “We’ll try this, and wait and see…” I would run screaming from the room. No, no wait and see. I am so, so tired of hearing that phrase. Yeah, let’s wait and see it get worse and the child far further behind.

If you believe your child needs special education, then I would formally request IEP evaluations in writing and use the IEP process. You might still get a “No!” and have choices to make, but at least your paper trail is started.

RTI does not require individualization. It also does not require evaluations. Screenings are not the same as evaluations.

504s do not require progress monitoring. RTI does include progress monitoring, but I have yet to find a district that does it well. And, with RTI, you have no recourse. There is no mediation or due process. If it doesn’t help your child, you have nothing to fall back on. With a 504, you can file an OCR complaint if it is not implemented.

504 to IEP?

A child can receive RTI and/or accommodations from a 504 plan while being evaluated for an IEP. For most of my clients, I recommend they take whatever interventions or accommodations are being offered, but still push forward for evaluations if they believe their child needs them.

During these discussions, hearing the phrase “have to” is a red flag. “Well, with RTI, we have to…” or “We have to do this for a 504…” Their school district policy may dictate that they have to do some things, but IDEA does not. Nowhere in IDEA does it state that a child cannot be receiving RTI/504 while being evaluated. It also does not state anywhere that a child has to try RTI/504 before being evaluated for an IEP. It might be district practice to do that, but it is not the law.

Having a 504 or being in an RTI program is not a bad thing. However, in my professional opinion, they are both extremely overused as a delay tactic when a parent asks for an IEP. (Note: You don’t really ask for an IEP, you ask for IEP evaluations.) In fact, OSEP felt the need to provide a guidance letter about this.

OSEP-RTI-Guidance-Letter

Do some internet research. Read what your district and your state do for RTI. Ask for a meeting with the RTI person at your school and discuss what this is going to look like for your child. Maybe it is all that your child needs. And, maybe it will help them a bit while their needs are being evaluated until full IEP can be put in place. You won’t know that until you learn what it entails.

But, a Mom’s gut instinct is rarely wrong. So listen to it.

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