IEP vs. 504 Plan: What's the Difference?

How to determine whether an IEP or 504 Plan is right for your child — and how to secure the most effective school accommodations under each.

Understand the difference between and IEP and 504 Plan for securing school accommodations for your child.

What should I expect at the school assessment meeting?

After the school completes the evaluation and assessment of your child, they will send you a letter scheduling a meeting to discuss their conclusions as to whether your child qualifies for an IEP or a 504 Plan. A 504 Plan is usually offered as sort of a consolation prize for students who are deemed not sufficiently disabled to qualify for an IEP.

In some cases, the school will determine that a child is ineligible for services and will notify you by letter. Schools usually do not hold a meeting to notify you about ineligibility for services. Of course, you can dispute the finding by requesting an IEE at the school’s expense (see Step 6).

Some school teams will assess the child and make their recommendations of 504 Plan services without your input. Other schools seek the input of parents to discuss services. With IEPs, parents are a designated part of the team and must participate in all phases of applying for and determining services.

At the assessment meeting, parents are entitled to have all assessment information explained to them before the next meeting at which accommodations and services are to be determined. Parents should ask the person who administered the assessment to give them a copy of the report and meet with them to explain the report several days before the assessment meeting. This enables the parents to think through the information before making decisions for their child. If all IEP decisions are based on the information from the assessment, parents should be informed about the assessment results in a way they can understand.

Depending on the school district, some IEP and 504 Plan teams propose accommodations and services at the assessment meeting. It is a better idea for parents to request a second meeting to discuss specific accommodations and services. This gives them time to review the assessment with their child’s doctor, therapist, or learning specialist.

Next: An IEP versus 504 Plan

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