Understanding Differences Between 504 and IEP

Understanding Differences Between 504 and IEP: Which One Does My Child Need?

Have you ever thought that a 504 plan was the junior version of an IEP (Individualized Educational Plan)? 504 plans and IEP’s are important tools for parents of children with special needs. Let’s learn about some important differences between 504 and IEP.

504 Plans Are Part of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

School districts designed 504 Plans in response to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). ADA tells the school district that they cannot discriminate against your child solely because of a disability. In simple terms, it means that a 504 Plan entitles your child to equal access to education as students without disabilities.

A 504 Plan doesn’t have to list specific goals or accommodations for your child. If you disagree with the school about what they wrote into the 504 plan, you won’t have a formal dispute process to help you, unless you can prove that your child is being treated differently than non-disabled students.

Do you know that your school district doesn’t have to tell you that your child has a 504 plan or inform you if they are having a 504 meeting for your child?  The school district doesn’t have to follow timelines for review. They don’t even have to put your 504 plan into writing, though many school districts do. Therefore, it is important to consider your other options, such as an IEP.

Individualized Educational Plans (IEP) Are Part of IDEA

An IEP documents in writing, a plan for your child’s right to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) under the Individuals with Disabilities Educational Act (IDEA). If your child has a diagnosis (e.g., ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder) then having an IEP can be a great support to your child’s education.

IEP’s mandate specific timelines for academic reviews and responses to parents or guardians and they must be in writing. IEP’s offer parents of children with disabilities a formal process for dispute resolution and appeals. Unlike a 504 plan, the IEP is a legally enforceable document.

To qualify for an IEP, your child must have one of the following disabilities and it must adversely affect your child’s educational performance.

  • Autism
  • Blindness
  • Deafness
  • Emotional Disturbance
  • Hearing Impairment
  • Intellectual Disability
  • Multiple Disabilities
  • Orthopedic Impairment
  • Other Health Impaired
  • Specific Learning Disability
  • Speech or Language Impairment
  • Traumatic Brain Injury
  • Visual Impairment

504 plans and IEP’s are similar in that they stem from federal laws. Both plans can help prepare your child for college, career, or independent living, but only the 504 plan follows your child into adulthood. For purposes of documentation and procedural safeguards, if your student meets the qualifying criteria under IDEA, it’s better for students to have an IEP.

Contact us for a free phone consultation to learn more about supporting your child as a parent advocate for special education services, including plans for 504 and IEP. We serve families of San Diego County, including Carlsbad, Encinitas, Rancho Santa Fe, Escondido and surrounding cities.

About Susan Gehrig, PhD

Susan Gehrig, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and founder of Paradox Psychological Services located in Carlsbad. She has a passion for supporting the wellbeing of children and teens. Her expertise is in child mindfulness and self-compassion, cognitive behavioral therapy, and child development. Dr. Gehrig provides psychoeducational testing and therapy services to help build a plan for success. Paradox provides services for families of San Diego North County and greater areas.

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