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504 Plan or IEP: What's the difference?

As much as we would like to think that the public school system will accommodate the individual needs of our kids, many administrators don’t like to dip from the general education fund for a single student. As a result, parents often have to fight to obtain reasonable accommodations for their children that have learning disabilities as well as other disabilities that impact learning. The key to navigating this rocky river is to understand the laws and lingo that offers mandated accommodations so that you can be the best possible advocate for your situation. This blog will compare and contrast the mandates required for both 504 and Individualized Education Plan (IEP) designations.

What are the Laws that Mandate 504 Accommodations?
1) Rehabilitation Act 1973, 1993, 1998
This 1973 Act bans discrimination against students with learning disabilities by any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance, including schools.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act


"No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States... shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance"

2) Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) 1990, 2008 Extended Protections to State and Local Organizations:
Under ADA, an individual with a disability is a person who: 1) has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; or 2) has a record of such an impairment; or 3) is regarded as having such an impairment.

What is the Law that Mandates IEP Accommodations?
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) 1997, 2004
IDEA makes an attempt to ensure that every student with disabilities receives special education services and due process. More importantly, a bar was set in terms of what students with disabilities could expect: a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).

Under IDEA any student found to have a disability and requiring classroom accommodations must have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Prepared by a team that includes school officials, teachers and parents, the IEP should contain:
  • Current level of academic achievement. 
  • Annual, measurable goals. 
  • Calendar plan for periodic progress reports. 
  • A statement of the special services and aids to be provided to the child. 
For more information and exact wording, see the U.S. Department of Education website.
A Quick Comparison of IEP and 504 Plans

Just remember, the more informed you are about your child's needs and the legal rights that they deserve, the more the schools will accommodate your situation.

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Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning and Dyslexia Materials.  She is also the director of Learning to Learn and Go Dyslexia, in Ossining, NY.  To learn more about her products and services, you can go to https://godyslexia.com/, www.goodsensorylearning.com, www.dyslexiamaterials.com & www.learningtolearn.biz  
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