How is a 504 Plan Different From an IEP?

Some might be surprised to learn other accommodations are available to help their child succeed.

Parents know their child best. And when they notice them struggling in school due to special needs, anxiety or ADHD, it can be heartbreaking and frustrating not knowing where to turn for help.

While most parents of children with special needs are likely aware of an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), some might be missing out on accommodations their child can receive even if they don’t qualify for an IEP.

The 411

The IEP and 504 each offers accommodations and services to children in school. While both ensure that a child with disabilities has access to a free and appropriate public education, there are some differences.

The first step to getting your child an IEP or a 504 is to document school struggles. The more data you can supply the school, the easier it will be to create a plan that best meets your child’s needs.

An IEP requires a team of educators to collect data that shows a child needs specialized education services. The evaluation is needed even if a pediatrician has already made a diagnosis. It covers a range of special needs, including emotional, visual, hearing, speech and language, autism or physical or intellectual impairment.

If granted, an IEP includes specialized education services, including a teacher consultant who touches base with a student and their goals multiple times per year. It could also include a separate class or a set-aside amount of time where students get to work towards educational goals with a specially trained teacher.

If the school finds that a child doesn’t fit within the umbrella of an IEP, the student might still be able to obtain a 504, which requires a school to offer accommodations, modifications and services. A 504, which arose out of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, has no age limit and can follow a child through college and into their career, if they desire.

The 504 law falls under the Office of Civil Rights whereas an IEP falls under the Department of Education.

Before moving forward with a 504, it’s a good idea to research accommodations that may benefit your child. Create a list of the accommodations and bring them to the planning meeting with school staff.

Common accommodations are preferential seating or extended time on homework or tests. Your child might benefit from a guaranteed break in the day or using a fidget. An accommodation could include taking tests separately from the rest of the class or to even have tests read aloud.

Before the planning meeting, you may find it helpful to pursue outside testing. Many psychologists offer testing that will provide your child’s team with another excellent resource when developing a plan that is a perfect fit.

Finally, don’t get discouraged. If either an IEP or 504 is denied, the school or individual teachers might be willing to make “unofficial” accommodations to help your child succeed if you ask.

Steffy McCourt is a mom to three active boys. She is a Teacher On Special Assignment in the Plymouth Canton School District and frequent Metro Parent contributor.

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Steffy McCourt
Steffy McCourt
Steffy McCourt brings over 15 years of experience in education, parenting, and travel writing for esteemed publications like We Are Teachers and LA Family Travel. Recognized for her commitment to advancing literacy and writing skills, Steffy is honored to be a Fellow of the National Writing Project. She collaborates with educators nationwide to enhance teaching practices and empower student writers.


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