Raising a child with special needs can be a challenge – and even understanding the help that is out there can be a challenge in and of itself. Between the jargon and the different plans available, choosing what is best for your child can be difficult.
Your child has certain rights – including the right to the best education possible. Both 504 plans and IEPs (Individualized Education Plans) are designed to ensure that – but there are some important differences. These differences mean one is right for some children and one for others.
504 Plan vs IEP Explained
The essential difference between the two is that the 504 plan is, on the whole, intended for children who can manage in mainstream classrooms without specialized instruction, but who requires certain accommodations to achieve their full potential. Because of this, children who are not eligible for an IEP may be eligible for a 504 plan.
There are much stricter rules for IEPs.
An Individualized Education Plan team designs the plan for that specific child, and it must include at least one of the child’s parents, at least one special education teacher, at least one of the child’s general education teachers, a school psychologist and a district representative. It has to be in writing and has to set out very specific education goals for the child as well as the services they will receive, in detail. It is administered by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The child must have one of the specific disabilities covered, which include autism, deafness, blindness, certain specific learning disabilities, etc.
The 504 Plan is generally much looser and does not need to be in writing. There are no legal requirements as to who should be on the team – and it is generally created by parents and teachers working together. It uses a broader definition of disability, and the goal is to “remove barriers” to learning – although it still requires that the disability has a significant impact on the child’s ability to learn in the classroom. 504 plans might, for example, set up the accommodations needed to allow a student who uses a wheelchair to participate in school trips or how to help a student avoid life-threatening allergens.
Essentially, IEPs are for students who need a lot of specialized help in order to learn to their full potential and are likely to spend all or part of the day in a special education classroom. 504 plans are for children who do not need as much help and who can easily learn, in general, mainstream classrooms, but may require some accommodations or assistance.