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IEP's VS 504's?


What is the difference between an IEP and a 504 Plan? This is a very common question, and somewhat complicated!

Under the Individuals with Disabilities and Education Act (IDEA), students with disabilities are entitled to a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), requiring students who are eligible for either a 504 or an IEP to receive accommodations and/or services appropriate to access FAPE.


A 504 plan is generally developed to provide appropriate accommodations, within a general education setting, that address how the student’s disability causes limitations related to major life activities, like accessing one’s education. More times than not, it seems a 504 Plan is written for students who have a medical diagnosis from a doctor, for example: ADHD, Diabetes, Anxiety, Depression, Asthma, Arthritis etc. It is important to note that a 504 plan can be established for a “suspected diagnosis” as well, as long as there is evidence of a disability that limits major life functions. Services can be part of a 504 Plan as determined by the school district, but accommodations are always the consistent component of a 504 Plan.


An Individualized Education Program (IEP) is developed for students who qualify to receive special education services because their disability has an “educational impact” that does not allow the student to progress academically/socially/behaviorally/emotionally as expected without the presence of specific services. Often, school teams provide interventions and monitor progress to demonstrate that either the interventions are working to support the student in closing an achievement gap, or that specialized services may be necessary. The team (which includes the parent) would then meet, discuss the concerns, and agree to the teams proposed assessments/evaluations necessary to determine special education eligibility. Upon receiving parental consent to assess the student, the child will be assessed by the educational team. Eligibility for special education services will be determined by the team within 60 days (in Illinois) of the signed permission to evaluate.


If the student is found eligible for special education services the team will create a plan within 30 days (in Illinois) that includes special education services, goals and accommodations to be delivered in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). The plan established is the IEP and it addresses: services to be delivered and by what professional provider, the setting in which services are delivered, accommodations and modifications to be made and goals that target deficit areas outlined in the present levels of performance. The team is required to meet annually to provide progress updates related to goals. In addition, the team is required to re-evaluate a student every three years to consider the most relevant and up to date data to establish if a student continues to be eligible for special education services.

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