Most parents know that 504 Plans and Individual Education Program’s (IEP’s) are educational plans developed to assist students with disabilities. However, many parents do not know the differences between these plans. It is important to understand such differences so that you are able to identify which plan is a better fit for your child and know what you should expect from the plan your child receives.

IEP’s are for students with disabilities who require specialized instruction to make meaningful educational progress. 504 Plans are for students with disabilities that are able to progress in general education but require some assistance to fully participate in the curriculum. For example, a student with cerebral palsy who is able to excel in the general education curriculum but requires assistance getting around her school would be eligible for a 504 Plan. However, if the student also has a learning disability that requires her to receive one-on-one tutoring to make progress, then she would be eligible for an IEP. Thus, IEP’s are focused on providing individualized instruction to a child, while 504 Plans are designed to ensure a child can access general instruction.

A school must comply with a variety of procedural requirements when developing and implementing an IEP. Parents can request an independent evaluation to be used in crafting the IEP, parents must receive written notice before changes in the IEP, and the IEP must include a variety of pieces of information, such as a statement of the student’s present level of performance, a statement of how the student’s disability affects her ability to make educational progress, measurable annual goals, and a description of the services that must be provided to the student. In contrast, 504 Plans come with far fewer protections. Parents cannot request independent evaluations at the school’s expense, schools need only provide “adequate” notice before a change in the plan, and there are minimal requirements as to what is to be included in the plan.

In most cases, when a student is struggling to learn, an IEP is appropriate. Schools often steer parents towards 504 Plans because they have more relaxed requirements and standards. If you feel that a 504 Plan won’t meet your child’s needs, vocalize your concerns – you know what your child needs better than anyone.