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IEP v. 504 plan: What is the difference?

| Jan 31, 2021 | Special Education Law |

When parents seek special education services for their children, they will likely come across a few plan options to pursue. Namely, they might hear about individualized education plans (IEP) and 504 plans that outline programs for a child’s access and success in education.

It is important for parents to understand the differences between these two plans, and how they could help their children.

Three critical things to know

These two plans have similar goals, but they are very different from each other. Comprehending the nuances between these two plans will take more than a single blog post. It might be beneficial for California parents to evaluate the differences with a special education attorney.

However, there are a few things that parents should know:

  1. The plans offer different services: IEPs prepare and provide tailored special education services to meet a child’s unique needs. On the other hand, 504 plans do not relate to special education. They focus on identifying and making adjustments to the existing learning environment to help meet the needs of a child.
  2. Different laws cover these plans: One of the main reasons these plans are so different is because they are governed by two different laws. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) informs IEP regulations and requirements. This law specifically relates to special education services. On the other hand, 504 plans fall under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
  3. The definition of disability varies: IDEA has a very specific definition of disability. This definition impacts which students can qualify to obtain an IEP and receive special education services. Section 504 has a much broader definition of disabilities. This means children with disabilities can still obtain a tailored education and certain accommodations, even if they do not qualify for special education services.

Both IEPs and 504 plans help students with disabilities. However, parents must understand the intricate differences between these two plans, so they can determine which plan best meets their child’s needs and best interests.