"What is the difference between an IEP and a 504 Plan?"
by Linda M. Gorczynski, Attorney
Hickman & Lowder Co. L.P.A.
Both IEP and 504 plans can offer special education, regular education, therapies and accommodations for students with disabilities. And public schools are obligated to provide a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) to students under either plan. However, they come from different federal laws; and they have different eligibility criteria, definitions of FAPE, and procedural requirements.
Section 504 (of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973) protects all persons with disabilities from discrimination by places (including schools) that receive federal funding. To qualify under Section 504, a student must have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Major life activities include things like caring for one's self, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, working, etc. The 504 plan provides a FAPE when it meets the individual educational needs of students with disabilities as adequately as the needs of students without disabilities. Practically speaking, most schools use 504 plans for students whose needs can be met with accommodations alone (i.e. special seating, shortened school day, access to epi-pens, excusal from phys-ed, etc.)
An IEP falls under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which provides special education and related services to students with disabilities. Qualifying for an IEP is more difficult but brings with it more rights and procedural requirements. A student must meet one of the thirteen, very specific disability categories such as: Other Health Impairment or Specific Learning Disability. The disability must also adversely affect the student’s educational performance, requiring specialized instruction. Under an IEP, a school must provide a FAPE in the least restrictive environment, so that a student makes adequate progress, as measured against his own abilities and accomplishments, not against the typical population.
Which plan is the right plan? It all depends on the particular child’s needs.
This article is intended to provide general information about the law. Before applying this information to a specific legal problem, readers are urged to seek advice from an attorney.