As the parent of a child with a disability, you know that ensuring they receive a proper education can be a real challenge. The processes involved are confusing and take some time to get accustomed to, and it’s natural to have questions. Terminology can be difficult as well – such as the difference between an IEP and a 504 plan.
They’re similar, but with some important differences
An Individualized Education Program (IEP) originates in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and is targeted toward disabled children and their K-12 education. They are overseen by the Department of Education. 504 plans, however, are administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. They stem from Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and may be characterized more as anti-discriminatory in nature, rather than having their primary focus on education.
Where IEP’s only deal with K-12 education, Section 504 accommodation requirements can reach into adulthood and include college. Usually, whether a child qualifies for one or the other depends upon their impairment. IDEA lists 13 specific disabilities, one of which a child must possess, in order to qualify for an IEP. If a child suffers an impairment which affects their education, but is not covered by IDEA, a 504 plan would be their best option.
While it is possible to have both and IEP and a 504 plan at the same time, it would be a rarity. If a child qualifies for an IEP, they wouldn’t have much use for a 504 plan, as the IEP provides everything included in a 504 plan, plus additional services. If they have a 504 plan, the plan itself will not extend beyond K-12 and into college. However, since Section 504 is anti-discriminatory in nature, many of the same accommodations required for K-12 can be mandated for college – the difference is that they must be requested, rather than being provided as part of a formal 504 plan.