504 And Iep Comparison Essay

School can be a stressful environment for the child and a time of vulnerability. Appropriate accommodations and modifications can reduce stress and can assist in achieving and maintaining educational success. 

As a parent, you are your child's greatest advocate, supporter, and cheerleader. By becoming knowledgeable regarding educational laws as well as services and programs available within your community, you can ensure that your child receives a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). There are two primary laws that cover your child's rights to a public education:

  • Individuals with Disability Education Improvement Act (IDEA)

  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

Understanding how Section 504 and IDEA work with each other and complement each other allows you as the parent to better assist your child's educational team in ensuring your child's right to a Free and Appropriate Education (FAPE) is provided allowing for maximum educational success.

504 and IDEA Comparison Chart 


Component of the Legislation


Section 504



Is a federal statute whose purpose is to ensure a free and appropriate education services for children with disabilities who fall within one of the specific disability categories as defined by the law

Is a broad civil rights law which protects the rights of individuals with disabilities in any agency, school or institution receiving federal funds to provide persons with disabilities to the greatest extent possible, an opportunity to fully participate with their peers.


Who is Protected

Covers eligible students ages 3-21 whose disability adversely affects the child's educational performance and/ or ability to benefit from general education.

Covers all persons with a disability from discrimination in educational settings based solely on their disability. Section 504 defines a person with a disability as:
  • Having a physical or mental impairment which limits one or more major life activity;

  • Have a record of such an impairment; or

  • Are regarded as having an impairment.



Provides individual supplemental educational services and supports in addition to what is provided to students in the general curriculum to ensure that the child has access to and benefits from the general curriculum. This is provided free of charge to the parent.

Requires schools to eliminate barriers that would prevent the student from participating fully in the programs and services offered in the general curriculum.


Requirements for delivering Services

Requires a written Individual Education Plan (IEP) documentation with specific content addressing the disability directly and specifying educational services to be delivered, mandating transition planning for students 16 and over, as well as a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) for any child with a disability that has a behavioral issue. "Appropriate Education" is defined as a program reasonably calculated to provide "educational benefit" to the student. Related services are provided as required for the student to benefit from the educational process and are aligned with specially designed instruction (e.g. counseling, speech, transportation, occupational and physical therapy, etc.)

Does not require a written IEP but does require a documented plan. "Appropriate Education" means comparable to the one provided to general education students. Section 504 requires that reasonable accommodations be made for the child with a disability. Requires the school to provide reasonable accommodations, supports and auxiliary aides to allow the child to participate in the general curriculum.



Provides additional funding to states for eligible students

Does not provide additional funds. Additionally, IDEA funds may not be used to serve children found eligible under section 504 only.


Evaluation Procedures

A full Multi-factored evaluation (MFE) is required, using a variety of assessment tools and strategies to gather relevant functional and developmental information, including information provided by the parent that may assist the team in determining whether the child has a disability and how it affects the child's educational program. Multiple assessment tools must be used to assess the child in all areas of the suspected disability. Written consent is necessary by parent or guardian before an initial evaluation is conducted Requires a reevaluation every three years by IEP team to determine if services are still needed to address student disability unless the parent and other members of the IEP team agree it is not necessary. Reevaluation is not required before a change of placement.

Evaluation draws on information from a variety of sources in the area of concern. A group decision is made with persons knowledgeable about the student, evaluation data, and available educational placement options. Written consent is not necessary before completing an evaluation; however, notice must be provided to parent or guardian. Requires yearly reevaluations or periodic review.


Independent Evaluation

Allows parents to request an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) at the school district's expense if parent /guardian disagrees with the evaluation obtained by the school district. The Independent Evaluator must meet the same criteria as the district requires for their employees and must be approved by all parties.

Does not allow independent evaluations at the district's expense or the ability to request an independent educational evaluation.


Procedural Safeguards

Requires written notice to parent/ guardian prior to identification, evaluation and/or placement of child. Changes of services or placement must have written notice before any change can take place. Requires due process rights to be followed at all times and manifestation determination hearing for discipline procedures. For any child with behavioral concerns a Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) must be completed and a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) written to assist student in learning appropriate behaviors and providing supports to enable student to be successful in their learning community.

Does not require written notice, Requires notice before a "significant change" in placement - requires due process rights if referred for formal evaluation under IDEA, and the team determines not to evaluate.


Placement Decisions

Requires district and schools to use information from a variety of sources. Consider all documented information and use a team approach to make eligibility decisions. Team members are identified under IDEA and must be knowledgeable about the child, evaluation data, and the continuum of placements and services available. Requires that student receives a free and appropriate education with his/her non-disabled peers in the least restricted environment. IEP meeting is required before any change in placement or services is made. Students are eligible for a full continuum of placement options including regular education with related services as needed.

Requires district and schools to use information from a variety of sources. Consider all documented information. Use a team approach to make eligibility decisions, with team members being knowledgeable about the child, evaluation data, and the continuum of placements and services available. The student must receive a free and appropriate education with his/her non-disabled peers. Meeting is not required for a change of placement. Students are served in general education with or without modification. Possible accommodations under a 504 plan could be:
  • Structured learning environment

  • Repeated or simplified instructions

  • Behavior management or intervention strategies

  • Modified testing procedures- small group; oral testing; extended time; test read to student.

  • Tape recorders, spell checkers, calculators, computers, word processor, etc.

  • Modified or adjusted homework, workbooks, second set of textbooks.

  • Textbooks on tape

  • etc. (many accommodations and modifications used on an IEP can be included in a 504 accommodation plan)


Due Process

Requires district to provide resolution sessions and due process hearings for parents/guardians who disagree with identification, evaluation, implementation of IEP or students Least Restricted Environment (LRE) placement. For more detailed information about IDEA, please read NCLD's IDEA Guide.

Requires districts to provide a grievance procedure for parents, and students who disagree with identification, evaluation, implementation of IEP or students Least Restricted Environment (LRE) placement. A grievance procedure must be provided to parents and employees to follow and a 504 coordinator identified in the district to assist individuals as needed. Due process hearing not required before Office of Civil Rights (OCR) involvement or court action unless student is also covered by IDEA. Compensatory damages possible.


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Reprinted with the permission of the National Center for Learning Disabilities. © 1999-2009 National Center for Learning Disabilities, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Next Article: Decoding Special Ed


en españolPlanes de educación 504

Kids with physical or mental disabilities can face academic hurdles for a variety of reasons. But parents can take advantage of federal laws to help ensure their children's special needs are met.

Section 504 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is designed to help parents of students with physical or mental impairments in public schools, or publicly funded private schools, work with educators to design customized educational plans. These 504 plans legally ensure that students will be treated fairly at school.

504 Plan Basics

Students can qualify for 504 plans if they have physical or mental impairments that affect or limit any of their abilities to:

  • walk, breathe, eat, or sleep
  • communicate, see, hear, or speak
  • read, concentrate, think, or learn
  • stand, bend, lift, or work

Examples of accommodations in 504 plans include:

  • preferential seating
  • extended time on tests and assignments
  • reduced homework or classwork
  • verbal, visual, or technology aids
  • modified textbooks or audio-video materials
  • behavior management support
  • adjusted class schedules or grading
  • verbal testing
  • excused lateness, absence, or missed classwork
  • pre-approved nurse's office visits and accompaniment to visits
  • occupational or physical therapy

The goal of 504 plans is for students to be educated in regular classrooms along with the services, accommodations, or educational aids they might need. If students with these plans can't achieve satisfactory academic success, as is determined by the school, then alternative settings in the school or private or residential programs can be considered.

504 Plans vs. IEPs

A 504 plan is different from an individualized education program (IEP). The main difference is that a 504 plan modifies a student's regular education program in a regular classroom setting. A 504 plan is monitored by classroom teachers. A student with an IEP, as part of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004), may receive different educational services in a special or regular educational setting, depending on the student's need. IEP programs are delivered and monitored by additional school support staff.

Also, parental approval and involvement is required for an IEP, but not for a 504 plan. Full parental participation in the 504 plan process, however, is important for the student's academic success.

It's important to note that students with IEPs are also entitled to the additional protections and services offered by 504 plans. Students with IEPs might benefit from a 504 plan, for example, if they're moving from a special education setting to a regular classroom.

Evaluation and Referral

A 504 plan should be considered when a student isn't benefiting from instruction due to a physical or mental impairment. The issue can be raised by a parent or legal guardian, teacher, physician, or therapist.

A 504 plan can help when a student returns to school after a serious injury or illness, or when a student isn't eligible for special education services or an IEP, but still needs extra services to succeed academically. Once an educational concern is raised, the school principal or other academic advisor sets up a meeting of a 504 planning team. The team usually consists of parents, the principal, classroom teachers, and other school personnel (such as the school nurse, guidance counselor, psychologist, or social worker).

After reviewing academic and medical records and interviewing the student and parents, the 504 team determines if the child is eligible to have a 504 plan put in place. Sometimes school officials and parents disagree about eligibility. Disagreements also can arise about details within the 504 plan itself. In these cases, parents can make written appeals to the school district or the U.S. Office for Civil Rights.

Reviewing the 504 Plan

Once the plan is developed by the team, all the student's teachers are responsible for implementing the accommodations in the plan, as well as participating in plan reviews.

The 504 plan should be reviewed at least annually to determine if the accommodations are up to date and appropriate, based on the student's needs. Any 504 plan team member, including the parent, may call for a 504 plan review at any time if there is an educational concern or change in the student's needs.

The plan can be terminated if the 504 team determines that the student:

  • is no longer disabled
  • no longer requires any special accommodations or services to meet the identified needs
  • can be appropriately instructed in general education

A Final Word

Parents have the right to choose where their kids will be educated. This choice includes public or private elementary schools and secondary schools, including religious schools. It also includes charter schools and home schools.

However, it is important to understand that the rights of children with disabilities who are placed by their parents in private elementary schools and secondary schools are not the same as those of kids with disabilities who are enrolled in public schools (or placed by public agencies in private schools when the public school is unable to provide a free appropriate public education).

Children with disabilities who are placed in private schools may not get any services or the same services they would have received in a public school.

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