IEPs vs 504 Plans

The differences between an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) and a 504 Plan can be confusing. They can contain a lot of the same content and ultimately serve the same purpose. Both documents put formal supports in place to help students in school, and both require parental consent to implement. They are also both available at no cost to the family, and are both generally reviewed annually. But there are also some major differences between the two documents.

What is an IEP?

An IEP is a specific legal document that is designed for children with disabilities who need extra help in order to access their education. It’s created by a team of educators, the student’s parents, and other professionals (such as psychologists or speech therapists), and can include changes to curriculum and instruction, accommodations, modifications to testing, and other supports. An IEP is only available to students who have a disability recognized under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

What is a 504 Plan?

A 504 Plan is designed for any student who needs extra help in school because of a physical or mental health issue that impairs their ability to learn. Unlike an IEP, a 504 Plan does not include curriculum modifications and instructional changes. It does, however, provide accommodations such as preferential seating, extended time on tests, or the ability to take breaks when needed. This plan is available to any student who has a physical or mental health issue that impairs their ability to access their education.

What Laws Support Them?

One major difference between IEPs and 504s is in the laws that support them. IEPs exist under IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). The law that applies to 504s is Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. The former is a federal law ensuring that students with disabilities receive a free and appropriate education that includes the services and supports they need. The latter was the first civil rights law to come into effect protecting people with disabilities from disability-based discrimination.

Who is Eligible?

In order to get an IEP, a student must have one of 13 designated disabilities in order to qualify. A 504 plan only requires that students have any sort of diagnosed disability.

What are the Contents of Each Document?

Perhaps the biggest difference is the contents of the two documents. An IEP is organized and written in a very specific way. Among other things, it must include the student’s present levels of performance, both academic and functional; this means how the student is doing in school with regard to academic and non-academic parts of his or her day. This section also includes information about how the student is doing socially. Within each section, there are specific questions and prompts that need to be answered, like the student’s academic strengths and interests. IEPs also contain annual goals that need to be written in a very specific way, including benchmarks and methods of measuring progress. Another section of the IEP states which related services the student will receive, if any, as well as how often and when they begin. An IEP includes the extent to which students will participate in the general education curriculum, and whether they will participate in or be exempt from standardized testing.

A 504 Plan is much less structured. While an IEP typically follows a template, there isn’t a standard format for a 504 Plan. Typically, the plan includes the team members who are working together to create the plan, a description of the student’s needs, and a list of accommodations that will be put in place for that student. Depending on the complexity of the student’s disability, the 504 plan may vary in complexity. It is a much more open-ended document than an IEP.

Who Provides Funding?

While schools receive additional funds for all students with an IEP, they do not receive additional funds for students with 504 Plans. In fact, schools can actually have funding taken away if the government deems that they are not adequately serving kids with disabilities to the full extent of what the law requires.

The Bottom Line

While the two documents are very different, they both ultimately serve the same purpose, which is to provide students with disabilities the supports they need to succeed.

More Frequently Asked Questions 

What is the main difference between an IEP & 504 Plan?

IEPs are much more detailed and structured documents than 504 Plans. An IEP contains specific goals and objectives that must be met in order for a student to succeed, and it includes information such as accommodations, related services, and how often the student will participate in the general education curriculum. A 504 Plan is a much more open-ended document that outlines accommodations and other strategies to support a student with a disability.

It is important to remember that both IEPs and 504 Plans are designed to help students with disabilities succeed in school. The most important thing is to make sure that the plan is tailored to the individual student and their needs.

Do IEPs and 504 Plans Serve the Same Purpose?

It is important to remember that while IEPs and 504 Plans are very different documents, they serve the same purpose; to provide students with disabilities the supports they need to succeed. By having an IEP or 504 Plan in place, students will have access to the necessary accommodations and modifications that they need to be successful.

Regardless of which document is used, it is important for parents and educators to work together to ensure that the student’s individual needs are met. This ensures that the student has a comprehensive plan in place to help them reach their potential.

Who can write an IEP or 504 Plan?

IEPs and 504 Plans are created by a team of educators, administrators, parents, and other professionals. The team may also include the student if they are old enough to be involved in the process.

How often do IEPs & 504 Plans need to be updated?

IEPs should generally be reviewed and revised at least once a year. 504 Plans should also be reviewed and updated periodically, but there is not an established timeline for this.

What happens if a student does not meet the goals in their IEP or 504 Plan?

If a student does not reach the goals established in their IEP or 504 Plan, the team can reassess and make changes to reflect how the student is doing. The team should also consider any changes in a student’s disability that may be affecting their academic performance. It is important to remember that IEPs and 504 Plans are living documents that must be regularly adjusted as needed.

How do IEPs & 504 Plans address bullying?

IEPs and 504 Plans can both be used to address issues related to bullying. For example, a 504 Plan may include accommodations for the student such as additional supervision in the hallways or lunchrooms, counseling services, or social skills training. An IEP could also include modifications such as a behavior intervention plan, which outlines strategies for addressing bullying and other challenging behaviors.

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