Understanding the relationship between an IEP and a 504 Plan

On Behalf of | Jan 4, 2023 | Education Law |

Parents of children who suffer from a significant disability may find themselves suddenly plunged into an alphabet soup of numbers and letters that will have a material effect on the lives of their disabled child. Unfortunately, this “soup” can be as murky as pea soup fog. In this post, the essential differences between an IEP and a 504 Plan will be highlighted.

The essential difference

An IEP is an acronym that stands for Individualized Education Plan. IEPs were created by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to provide guidance and funding for specialized education for children with disabilities. Section 504 is part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 as amended.

Its central purpose is the elimination of all types of discrimination toward students with disabilities, but unlike the IDEA, the Rehabilitation Act carries no funding provisions. Another significant difference between the two statutes is duration of the benefits provided by each law. IDEA benefits, i.e., an IEP, expire when the student reaches the age of 18. Section 504 benefits can last through a student’s college career.

What is an IEP?

An IEP is a document developed by the student, the parents, the school district and any specialist who has skills that may benefit the student’s ability to learn. An IEP specifies a number of steps intended to ensure that the student receives benefits that will assist in overcoming the person’s particular disabilities.

An IEP may specify specialized teaching, a statement of annual learning goals, progress reporting requirements, special education and supplemental aids and a description of how services are delivered. The IDEA specifies 13 categories of disability that can qualify a student for an IEP and necessary aids. These categories include

  • Autism
  • Deafness with blindness
  • Deafness
  • Emotional Disturbance
  • Hearing Impairment
  • Intellectual Disability
  • Multiple Disabilities
  • Orthopedic Impairment
  • Other Health Impairment (OHI)
  • Specific Learning Disability (SLD)
  • Speech or Language Impairment (SLI)
  • Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
  • Visual Impairment (VI)

What is a 504 Plan?

504 plans are usually established under the Rehabilitation Act, a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination in education based on a physical or mental disability. Schools have great latitude in designing a 504 plan to meet the needs of a particular student. Section 504 defines a disability as a condition “that substantially limits one or more of [the student’s] major life activities.” 504 Plans are often used to provide benefits when a student is not eligible for an IEP.

The need for an attorney

Persons unfamiliar with either IDEA or the Rehabilitation Act often ask how attorneys fit into this scheme. A lawyer experienced in education law can offer help parents advocate for an improved or modified IEP or 504 Plan. A knowledgeable attorney can also help parents present arguments in favor of changes to a plan that the parents do not believe helps their child.