IEPs & 504 Plans

Q: IEP vs. 504 Plan — Which Will Work Better for My Child?

Should your child have an IEP or a 504 Plan? Here, learn about distinctions, qualifications, attributes, and examples of school accommodations or services associated with each.

illustration of three students in a classroom

Q: “My fourth-grade son has ADHD and has recently been struggling in school. I asked his teacher if we should arrange for him to have an IEP, but she said that the school probably would agree to give him only a 504 Plan for his ADHD. Is she right? What’s the difference between the two? And what should we do?”

It is important to understand the differences between an IEP (Individualized Education Program) — which arises under the IDEA, a federal education law — and a Section 504 Plan, which arises under a different federal law that bars discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Both laws can apply to students with ADHD and, depending upon your child’s needs, you may decide to pursue one or the other.

Obtaining an IEP requires that you go through a formal process, which begins with an evaluation of your child by a professional who will look at “all suspected areas of disability.” Then, your school district will determine if your child falls within one of the mandated classifications under the IDEA, usually “other health impairment” for a student with ADHD. More importantly, the school will determine whether he is in need of special education or related services (things like speech therapy). The school will create a menu of accommodations and services, along with goals to be met in his education.

[Get This Free Download: Comparing IEPs to 504 Plans]

Creating a 504 Plan is generally a simpler process. Although a full evaluation may be required, schools will often accept a statement from the diagnosing physician, explaining the ADHD diagnosis, how the student’s ADHD impacts his learning, and which accommodations he requires to “level the playing field” with students who do not have ADHD. A 504 Plan generally does not include placement in a specialized class, use of a resource room, or modifications in the curriculum.

Schools are often reluctant to provide an IEP for a student whose primary issue is attention and will urge families to accept a 504 Plan. The reasons for this are complex and include the fact that the IDEA has a funding component that requires schools to account for the number and nature of the IEPs they provide. If a student does not have a learning problem beyond ADHD, families sometimes decide to go the route of a 504 Plan rather than getting into a conflict with the school about whether an IEP is required. For some students, that works fine. For other students, the accommodations under a 504 Plan prove to be insufficient. Maybe the student needs reading support, or a smaller classroom setting that a 504 Plan doesn’t provide.

It is important for parents to know that accepting a 504 Plan does not preclude seeking an IEP at any time if things aren’t working out with Section 504 accommodations.

IEP vs. 504 Plan: Next Steps

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