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What is the difference between a 504 plan and an IEP?

Ensuring a child with special needs has all the help he or she needs in an academic setting is crucial to setting that child up for success. Parents can play an active role in making sure this happens by participating in the creation of a 504 plan or an Individualized Education Plan.

These plans are similar in many ways, but they are distinct.

Similarities between 504 plans and IEPs

Both 504 plans and IEPs provide direction for the special needs of students and protect the services provided. Both of these plans are provided at no cost to the students; schools have incentive to fund these programs either through additional funding or removal of funding for noncompliance. 

Differences between 504 plans and IEPs

A 504 plan is for students with any disability, including one that does not interfere with their learning, like the use of a wheelchair. An IEP, however, is only available for students with one of 13 specific disabilities that require specialized instruction. Not all disabled students qualify to have an IEP. 

Broadly speaking, a 504 plan is quite flexible and broad, whereas an IEP is far more specific. Further, an IEP must in writing; a 504 does not have to be in writing, though most are. The process for resolving disputes is also more rigid for IEPs than it is for 504 plans.

You can find more detailed information regarding the differences between these plans in this chart.

Finding -- and enforcing -- the right plan for your child

When it is possible to choose between a 504 plan and an IEP, it is crucial that parents make the decision armed with information. Being informed can help parents feel empowered to find the plan that is right for their child. 

Whether a child has a 504 plan or an IEP, it is crucial that the school complies with its responsibilities to provide the appropriate services. In the event that they fail to do this, parents can work with an attorney to address concerns, resolve disputes and navigate any hearing processes that may be required.

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