Parents often ask me whether they should push for a 504 Plan or an IEP (Individualized Education Program).  The answer is, as you may have guessed — It depends.  To answer this question, we must understand what exactly are 504 Plans and IEPs.  The name “504 plan” comes from Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973; it is, essentially, an Act that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities.

The first issue is what is required to qualify for each.  What qualifies for a 504 plan?  To qualify for a 504 plan, the child must have a qualifying disability.  The disability must “substantially limit” one or more basic life activities.   This could include reading, concentrating (ADHD), thinking, eating, breathing, learning, etc.  It would include medical conditions such as diabetes and anxiety.  There are two steps to qualify for an IEP.  First, the child must have one or more of 13 disabilities specifically listed in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  Those disabilities include: Emotional Disturbance, Specific Learning Disability, Cognitive Impairment, and others.  AND the disability must affect the child’s education and/or ability to benefit from the general education curriculum thereby necessitating specialized instruction.

There is a big difference in requirements between a 504 plan versus an IEP.  There are very specific rules that must be followed to draft an IEP: it must be written in a certain way, evaluations are required, goals must be set, etc.  A 504 plan doesn’t even have to be written.  It only provides accommodations (think ramp for a child in a wheelchair to get into the school building).  Unlike an IEP, it cannot modify what the child is expected to learn or know.  Children with IEPs also have more legal rights than those with 504 plans.

Understanding some of the differences, why would a Parent want to consider a 504 plan?  Well, certainly if a child doesn’t qualify for special education, then Parents should ask for a 504 plan.  What are some 504 plan examples?  A 504 plan for depression may be possible if the condition does not rise to a level requiring special education.  504 plans for ADHD may include such accommodations as seating in the front of the classroom and frequent breaks.  Also, children may only need accommodations.  Finally, some Parents just don’t want their children to get special education.

As a general rule, I encourage Parents to strongly consider qualifying their child for special education because it is, essentially, a formal contract between the school and the child and it opens up many more supports and services for the child.