When I first began to hear the terms “504” or “Individual Education Plan” (IEP), I found it difficult to distinguish the differences between these two types of school services. These services are designed to help your child with learning disabilities. I quickly became lost during critical conversations regarding my child’s education, and rightly so, as they both service children with physical, mental, emotional, behavioral, learning, or attention issues.
If you hear these terms and are trying to understand the benefits they will provide your child, you are also, possibly, experiencing an onslaught of all types of new terminology and diagnoses from your doctor or specialists. This moment in time is going to feel overwhelming with all the new information the doctors are giving you, which is imperative, to your child’s development and growth.
What I have for you here is a bare bone, boilerplate, easy to follow, explanation regarding the similarities and differences a 504 or an IEP will provide and service.
How the 504 and IEPs are Similar:
- Both act as a “map” for a child’s education career.
- Both are free of charge to families seeking the services the school will provide (i.e., counselor, occupational therapist, physical therapist, or speech therapist.)
- Both will consist of a team of people – I like to call it “Team Ninja” – the parents, teachers, administrators and other child development experts (i.e., counselor, occupational, physical, and speech therapist).
- “Team Ninja” will collaboratively create a plan and monitor progress. The rules about who must be involved are stricter for the IEPs.
- Services cannot be provided without Parents consent first.
How they Differ:
- Accommodations to make appropriate changes to classroom environment:
- “Sensory fidget” items – such as stress ball, Velcro to the desk, selection of sensory seating options, weighted items, etc.
- Be allowed to take a test orally vs. written.
- Supplementary aids to help support in the general classroom (i.e., audiobooks, or copy of a teacher’s notes the class would be required to copy)
- Cover children with any learning disability, such as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD, ADHD), Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, Asthma, etc.
- The 504 does not require a formal evaluation by an outside expert. Your school district will not cover the cost should you choose to have an evaluation to determine under what disability your child will qualify for a 504.
- States will not receive any additional funds for implementing a 504 plan. However, the government can withhold funds if the state is not in compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Funding given from Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) may not be used to serve students with a 504 plan.
- A 504 is not a formal document. “Team Ninja” will meet to discuss strategies and assess results and make adjustments accordingly. Meeting minutes may or may not be taken and signed at the end of a 504 meeting.
- Schools do not have to give written notification to the parents should any “significant” change happen to the 504 placement. However, most schools do so anyway.
- The rule will vary by state, but in general, a 504 plan will be reviewed at the beginning of each school year, and reevaluations are done every three years or as needed.
- 504 process for dispute-resolution are as follows (for more detailed information visit https://www.understood.org)
- Alternative dispute resolution
- Impartial hearing
- Complaint to the Office of Civil Rights (ORC)
Individual Education Plan (IEP):
- An IEP is an INDIVIDUAL map for each child. (curriculum accommodations)
- Requires a formal evaluation to determine if and what services your child will receive.
- Parents can request the school to provide the series of evaluations known as an independent educational evaluation (IEE) given by an outside expert. The school district does not have to agree.
- Parents may elect to pay for a private evaluation from an expert.
- To qualify for an IEP, you must have 1 or more of 13 specific disabilities such as Autism Spectrum Disorder; Blindness; Deafness; Hearing Impairment, etc. (to view all 13 qualifying disabilities visit www.specialeducationguide.com)
- There are strict legal requirements about who must participate on the IEP team – “Team Ninja.”
- At least one special education teacher
- Schools psychologist or another individual who can interpret the evaluation results
- A district representative over the special education services
- The State will receive additional funding for a child that is eligible for an IEP.
- IEP’s are enforced by your state’s education department – for example, in Arizona, that is the Department of Education
- The IEP is a very structured enforceable document that will contain a current academic assessment, track annual education goals and the length of time to achieve said goals
- Should the school wish to make any changes to a child’s IEP or services that are provided they must inform parents in writing, known as a “ Prior Written Notice.”
- List any accommodations—including class environment—along with who will provide the support and services your child will need.
- The IEP Team – “Team Ninja” – will review the IEP at least once a year. Depending on the goals made for the IEP your Team may meet more often. All students with an IEP must be re-evaluated every three years. It will then be determined if and what services will continue to be provided.
- Explains all modifications (taught curriculum) and accommodations (classroom environment) and how your child will participate in standardized tests.
- Your IEP will state a plan that will show how your child will be included in school activities as well as in the classroom.
- The IEP’s dispute-resolution consists of the following (for more detailed information visit https://www.understood.org)
- Due process complaint
- Resolution session
- Civil Lawsuit
- State complaint
Knowing which laws do what was a huge part of helping me understand the difference between a 504 and an IEP. I found this chart super handy when I started on our journey. If you are still confused about your eligibility and rights, I strongly encourage you to contact your state’s Parent Information & Resource Center. Also, try meeting with your child’s teacher. They are a great resource as well as an additional set of eyes to help spot the struggles your child may be facing. Another excellent advocate to have on your side is your child’s primary care physician. They can give you referrals to a specialist to obtain any evaluations you feel your child may need.
Resources used to write this article can be found at the following sites: