Learning Plans Explained: IEP's & 504s


Both IEPs and 504 plans can provide accommodations to your child's education (K-12) at no cost to families. If planned and implemented well, these legally binding documents can help meet the needs of your child who has a disability which is impacting their ability to learn. While an IEP provides more specialized instruction and individualized supports, the process for obtaining an IEP is much more strict and time consuming. 504 plans are more easily obtained for a wider range of students and in many cases might be able to sufficiently accommodate your child's needs in the classroom.


IEP 504 Plan
Governed under special education law (IDEA) Governed under civil rights law
Student must be diagnosed with at least one of the 13 disabilities as outlined in IDEA. Covers a larger range of disabilities
The disability must impact the student's ability to learn through a general education curriculum. Disability must impact learning in the general education classroom
Requires a detailed psychoeducational evaluation and the process can be lengthy Needs an evaluation, but the process is much simpler and evaluation could include things such as medical records, student observation, parent, student and teacher interviews, work samples, etc.
Plan is very specific and formally structured to include present level of academic performance and achievement, annual goals, description of how progress will be measured, program modifications and supports, etc. Plan is less formally structured, but includes supports, services, accomodations and who is responsible for implementing them
An IEP provides more specialized instruction and individualized support. 504 plans provide for accomodations within the general education classroom but typically do not include additional specialized instruction
Renewed annually Renewed annually

Process For Obtaining

Obtaining both an IEP and a 504 plan is a collaborative process involving districts, schools, parents and caregivers, and other medical professionals. Acquiring an IEP involves a formal, approved evaluation and can be a lengthy process.


IEP 504 Plan
Parent or school submits written request to disctrict's coordinator Parent or school submits written request to district's 504 coordinator
Families can request that the district pays or can pay privately for evaluation through independent provider Shorter evaluation process to determine eligibility
Evaluation must show that child falls into one of the 13 categories under IDEA and learning is impacted Meet with school team to discuss if child qualifies for a 504
Attend an eligibility meeting which includes parent or caregiver, at least one general education teacher, at least one special education teacher, school psychologist or other specialist able to interpret test results, and a district representative for special education services The team, which consists of parent(s) or caregiver(s), general and special education teachers, and the school principal will meet to create a 504 plan for your child
If child is determined ineligible, consider a 504 plan or a private assessment

It is important to note that if your child is determined to be eligible for a 504 or IEP and a plan has been developed, it is necessary to check on implementation and revisit the document as needed. When implemented successfully, these plans can provide your child with the necessary support and structure to be more successful in the classroom. 

Remember, while many private schools will work towards providing as many accommodations as possible, they are not legally obligated to follow IEPs and 504 plans. 

It is easy to become bogged down with information and decision making. We hope this breakdown helps you better understand each plan and the steps needed to obtain them. Whether you decide to seek private testing for your child or you need support services post-evaluation, Parallel is here to help as you navigate this process. For more information on IEPs and how we can help, check out this past blog post. To talk to one of our specialists about how we can assist you through this process, click here. 


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