5 Difference’s Between IEP’s and 504

IEP and 504 plans can often be confusing.  Some children need a map of what their education will look like for the year.  Other’s may just need preferential seating or extra test time to succeed.  I have broken down the top five differences between an IEP and a 504 for you.

Plan vs Access

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An IEP is a plan for the Individuals Special Education experience for the school year.   Think of an IEP as a detailed road map of exactly how a student will be educated.  IEP’s are anywhere from 15 pages to as many pages are necessary.  It can be as specific as needed to ensure the student has a plan that gives them what is fundamental for a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) in writing.

A 504 Plan is for individuals to have access to learning at school.  This plan can be only a few pages long.  The plan can list things such as pencil grips, extra test time, or preferential seating.



IDEA vs Section 504

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IEP’s are protected under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) passed in 1975.   This is a federal act.   IDEA ensures that students with disabilities will receive a Free and Appropriate Education (FAPE).  If you have or are involved with a student with a disability it is in your best interest to become familiar with IDEA.  IDEA outlines the 13 disabilities that qualify for an IEP:

  1. Specific Learning Disabilities
  2. Other Health Impairment
  3. Autism Spectrum Disorder(ASD)
  4. Emotional Disturbance
  5. Speech or Language Impairment
  6. Visual Impairment, including Blindness
  7. Deafness
  8. Hearing Impairment
  9. Deaf-Blindness
  10. Orthopedic Impairment
  11. Intellectual Disability
  12. Traumatic Brain Injury
  13. Multiple Disabilities

504 plans were formed under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.  This was the first disability civil rights law.  This law prohibits discrimination based on disability and laid the groundwork for the American with Disabilities Act (ADA).  504 plans are not part of Special Education.  A 504 plan is designed to level the playing field for a student with disabilities in a general education classroom.  Any student with a disability can receive a 504 plan.

Structure vs Varied

IEP’s have standard guidelines for Student plans. Certain items must be included in every IEP.  One very important item in an IEP is LRE(Least Restrictive Environment).  You may hear the IEP team talk about the placement of the student.  LRE is very important for the student so they can be included with typical students. Classroom accommodations, BIP’s (Behavior Intervention Plans), SPED( Special Education Minutes), and academic and behavioral goals are just a few items that must be included.

A 504 plan is less detailed and gives a student access to education,  but not a detailed plan.  What does access to education mean?  It means that schools provide accommodations and remove potential barriers to students with disabilities so they have the same opportunity to learn as nondisabled peers.

School Evaluation vs Independent Evaluation

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A student must be evaluated by the school systems Special Education Department to qualify for an IEP.    This evaluation determines if the student meets one of the 13 specific disabilities eligible for an IEP.

For a 504 plan, a student needs to have a disability and it has to interfere with the students’ ability to learn in a typical classroom setting.   A private provider can diagnose a person with a disability.  The school will not need to evaluate in order for a student to receive a 504 plan.

IEP Team vs 504 Team

An IEP team meets and works together to create the best IEP for the student.  The team must include:

  • Parent or guardian
  • General Education Teacher
  • Special Education Teacher
  • School Psychologist
  • District Representative with Special Education Authority

If you plan on inviting someone to the IEP meeting you need to include them on the IEP Meeting notice. It is a good idea to have an advocate or friend to attend the meeting with you.  An advocate can help you understand the process, and a friend can help you just by being there.  My friend that would come with me would take detailed notes and that was a huge help.  I was able to go over them later and see if anything was not covered or left out.

A 504 plan can be created by a team of people that are familiar with the student and can understand special services options.  This can include:

  • Teacher
  • School Administrator
  • Parent

This plan is not as detailed as an IEP and does not require a specialized team.  Again I would recommend having a friend with you, it always helps to have a second set of ears.


A student can have both an IEP and a 504 plan.  Sometimes, while a student is waiting for their evaluation to be completed by the school they receive a 504.  Then that 504 is included into the IEP.  When a child is being evaluated they are eligible to receive accommodations until the evaluation is concluded.  Once the evaluation is concluded, the team meets to decide the final accommodations, if any, are necessary for the student.

If you believe that your child would qualify for an IEP or a 504 but aren’t sure where to begin, read this post.  Are you still confused and want to talk to someone locally?  Contact Northshore Families Helping Families.  If you are not on the Northshore, Families Helping Families has 10 locations throughout Louisiana to help you.  They have planned events to help you understand how to get your child the support they need to be successful.  If you do register for an event or contact a Families Helping Families because of this post please let me know in the comments.  I highly recommend attending one of their workshops.  The more information you have the better equipped you are to help your student navigate school.

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