How Does a 504 Plan Differ From an IEP?

Both plans are designed to help students with disabilities

Boy (9-11) with father and female teacher, sitting at desk in classroom
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Both a 504 plan and an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) involve special education accommodations, but do you know how these two plans differ from each other? Learn the differences and similarities between the two with this review of how a 504 plan lines up with an IEP.

A 504 Plan vs. an IEP

A 504 plan, which refers to Section 504 of the the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, is an attempt to remove barriers and allow students with disabilities to participate freely in both public elementary and secondary education.

Like the Americans With Disabilities Act, it seeks to level the playing field so that those students can safely pursue the same opportunities as everyone else. A 504 plan aims to make sure that students with disabilities get the accommodations they need to participate in school just as they would if they didn't have a disability.

Section 504 states, "No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States . . . shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance . . . "

Section 504 mandates that public schools districts offer a "free appropriate public education" (FAPE) to eligible students with disabilities in their constituencies, no matter how severe the disability is or what its nature is.

Depending on the student in question, an appropriate education could mean situating the student in a mainstream classroom with no supplementary services, a mainstream classroom with services or a special education classroom with services.

How Does an IEP Help Students?

On the other hand, an IEP, which falls under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, is much more concerned with actually providing educational services. Students eligible for an IEP represent a small subset of all students with disabilities.

They generally require more than a level playing field -- they require significant remediation and assistance -- and are more likely to work on their own level at their own pace, even in an inclusive classroom.

 Federal law requires schools to document how they will measure the academic growth of students who need IEPs.

Only certain classifications of disability are eligible for an IEP, and students who do not meet those classifications but still require some assistance to be able to participate fully in school would be candidates for a 504 plan. The plan will specify how schools will ensure that students receive equal access to public schooling and services and will break down the requirements that must be met to give them such access.

504 plans and IEPs are amended each year to make sure that students receive the most suitable accommodations for their situation at a given time. This is because a student's disability may not affect him the same way year after year.

Students with physical or learning disabilities may be able to manage their conditions better in the future, resulting in them needing fewer accommodations than they once did. In some cases, however, a student's learning or physical disability may worsen, resulting in him needing more accommodations in and out of the classroom.

No matter the circumstance, federal law aims to prevent these children from being left behind.

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