504 Plan vs IEP: What Every Parent Needs to Know

Maybe math is a struggle, reading levels aren’t quite where they should be, or socializing is hard. Children living with a urea cycle disorder (UCD) face many challenges, sometimes including learning.

An Individualized Education Program (IEP) or a 504 Plan may be able to help. With a little understanding of the differences between the programs and how to get started, your child can get the extra support he or she needs and deserves.

What is it?

IEP

A legal written document that’s individualized for any student in a public school who qualifies for special education

504 Plan

A legal plan for any student in a public school who has a disability

Who is eligible?

IEP

Student must fit 1 of 13 disability categories, which include autism, intellectual disability, and emotional disturbance

504 Plan

Student can have any disability, including physical or mental impairment

What is in it?

IEP

Document outlines specific and measurable goals and includes:

  • How the student is doing currently
  • How educational services will be delivered
  • When services start
  • How the student will be able to participate in class

504 Plan

Doesn’t have to be written or list specific goals, but includes:

  • Specific accommodations for the student to participate in the classroom
  • Who will provide services and support
  • Who is responsible for making sure the plan is carried out

Who creates the program?

IEP

By law, a multiperson team, including:

  • The student’s parent
  • The student’s teacher
  • A special education teacher
  • A school psychologist
  • A special education services representative

504 Plan

No legal standard regarding who is involved, but typically includes:

  • The student’s parent
  • The general classroom teacher
  • A special education teacher
  • The school principal

How often is progress reviewed?

IEP

Required at least once a year

504 Plan

Not required, but usually once a year

How much does it cost?

IEP

No cost to families

504 Plan

No cost to families

Who funds the program?

IEP

The state receives money for eligible students

504 Plan

The state doesn’t get extra money for eligible students, but the federal government can penalize schools for not helping students

What is the key takeaway?

IEP

A special education program is customized for a student who meets very strict criteria

504 Plan

Support and services are offered, but not customized, for a student who has a physical or mental impairment

  IEP 504 Plan
What is it? A legal written document that’s individualized for any student in a public school who qualifies for special education A legal plan for any student in a public school who has a disability
Who is eligible? Student must fit 1 of 13 disability categories, which include autism, intellectual disability, and emotional disturbance Student can have any disability, including physical or mental impairment
What is in it? Document outlines specific and measurable goals and includes:
  • How the student is doing currently
  • How educational services will be delivered
  • When services start
  • How the student will be able to participate in class
Doesn’t have to be written or list specific goals, but includes:
  • Specific accommodations for the student to participate in the classroom
  • Who will provide services and support
  • Who is responsible for making sure the plan is carried out
Who creates the program? By law, a multiperson team, including:
  • The student’s parent
  • The student’s teacher
  • A special education teacher
  • A school psychologist
  • A special education services representative
No legal standard regarding who is involved, but typically includes:
  • The student’s parent
  • The general classroom teacher
  • A special education teacher
  • The school principal
How often is progress reviewed? Required at least once a year Not required, but usually once a year
How much does it cost? No cost to families No cost to families
Who funds the program? The state receives money for eligible students The state doesn’t get extra money for eligible students, but the federal government can penalize schools for not helping students
What is the key takeaway? A special education program is customized for a student who meets very strict criteria Support and services are offered, but not customized, for a student who has a physical or mental impairment

You have the final say

You know your child better than anyone else. If you aren’t happy with the goals and support outlined in the IEP or 504 Plan, you can request a mediation session or a hearing. Lawyers and paid advocates can help in the process. In the end, ensuring your child gets the best help possible is the most important goal.

Learn more to get started

For additional information about IEPs, go to the US Department of Education website, which explains everything from writing an IEP to showing a sample IEP form and offers a downloadable brochure to read and save. The Department of Education also offers helpful information about 504 Plans here and how to contact your local state government for assistance here.

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