Two of the most prominent documents in special education are the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and the 504 Plan. Both plans address accommodations and information for special needs children, ensuring they have equal access to education. While there are a few similarities between the two education plans, there are also many differences.
What is an IEP?
An IEP (Individualized Education Plan) is a directive of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). When a student is diagnosed with a disability, an IEP ensures that they receive any beneficial services. Special education services entitle the student to adaptations of the school curriculum, specialized instruction, and classroom accommodations. They may also need related services like speech therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and counseling.
A student’s IEP is reviewed annually and re-evaluated for eligibility every three years.
What is a 504?
A 504 Accommodation Plan is a directive of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This plan ensures that any student with a disability receives the accommodations they require for more learning success. Accommodations may include extra time and separate rooms for testing, as well as fidgets, frequent breaks, and modified homework.
To be eligible for the 504 Plan, the student has to be diagnosed with an emotional or physical disability that significantly (and negatively) impacts the child’s life and education.
Under the 504 Plan, a student may not receive occupational, physical, or speech therapies.
Who is eligible for an IEP?
To qualify for an IEP, a student must meet the following requirements:
- The child’s disability must fit into one or more of the 13 disability categories listed with the IDEA. This list includes intellectual disabilities, deaf-blindness, speech or language impairment, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and of course, specific learning disability (SLD).
- The child’s diagnosed disability must affect their educational performance and their ability to learn the regular school curriculum. Evaluations must show that the child needs to have specialized instruction to progress academically.
Who is eligible for a 504?
To qualify for the 504 Plan, a student must meet the following requirements:
- The child must have any disability that causes them to struggle in school.
- The disability must significantly impede the child’s ability to learn in a mainstream classroom.
The 504 Plan has a more inclusive definition of disabilities than the IDEA. An issue that negatively affects a child’s ability to learn qualifies as a disability for the purposes of a 504 Plan. These issues may include problems with reading, learning, thinking, and communicating. So a child who doesn’t meet the requirements for an IEP may still qualify for a 504 Plan.
Is ADHD covered by a 504 or IEP?
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) falls under one of the 13 categories of disabilities for an IEP. However, if the child only has ADHD (which falls under the Other Health Impaired category), they may still be denied an IEP. The 504 Plan usually covers children with ADHD unless their ADHD is accompanied by a learning disability or is so severe that it presents a significant impairment to learning – then it qualifies for an IEP.
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Can a student have a 504 Plan and an IEP?
Technically, a student may have both a 504 Plan and an IEP. However, there is no need to have both plans. Everything that the 504 Plan consists of is also included in the IEP, but the IEP adds access to specialized instruction and services. These additions are not available on the 504 Plan.
There are two circumstances under which a school would want to have both plans for a student:
1 A student who already has an IEP may suffer a temporary injury, like a sprained wrist. The school may decide to implement a 504 Plan for any temporary writing accommodations needed rather than add these to their IEP.
2 The other circumstance that would prompt a school to implement a 504 Plan for a student who already has an IEP is if the student also has a medical condition. Even if the condition doesn’t impact their ability to learn, it may warrant special consideration. Examples of such conditions are peanut allergy, Celiac Disease, or diabetes.
Who creates an IEP plan?
The law is specific about who may create an IEP. The team must include:
- At least one of the child’s general education teachers
- The child’s parents
- At least one special education teacher
- A school psychologist or other specialist who can interpret evaluations
- A district authority who may arrange special education services
Who creates a 504 plan?
Who is free to create a 504 plan is more flexible than with the IEP. Anyone familiar with the child and understands their challenges, the evaluation data, and the services available may come together to write the 504 plan.
The team may consist of:
- The child’s parents
- The general education teacher
- A special education teacher
- The school principal
Is an IEP or a 504 Plan better?
To determine which is better, consider the similarities and differences of each:
- Both documents outline special accommodations for students provided under federal law.
- State and federal guidelines apply to both documents.
- Both documents are given to all relevant parties (education and service providers) responsible for the named child.
- Everything in a 504 Plan is also included in an IEP. But everything in an IEP is not included in the 504 Plan.
- A 504 Plan doesn’t mean the child qualifies for special education services.
- 504 Plans can be implemented for temporary conditions, while an IEP is an active education plan reviewed annually.
- Specialized instruction (among other services and supports) is provided only under an IEP, not under a 504 Plan.
- An IEP is a comprehensive document for any child requiring special education services. A 504 Plan is for a child who can learn in a general education environment with specific modifications.
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Although the IEP and the 504 Plan are similar in nature and function, there are distinct differences. If your child is having difficulties in school, it is well worth the effort to research each plan to see which will benefit your child the most. The IEP is more strict in who qualifies and what it offers, but if your child doesn’t qualify for the IEP, the 504 Plan may provide all they need.
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