IEPs vs 504s is a hot topic in special education. I'm going to go over six points, real quick, just to give you an overview so you know what questions to ask next about supports for your child at school.
The first thing that you need to know, point number one is that there is a difference between which law is governing this document that's going to help a child with their education. So here's my disclaimer. I'm not a lawyer, I'm not practicing the law, but I am telling you where to look. So if you're going to start pursuing an IEP, you're going to be looking at IDEA law. For a 504 plan, you're looking at the section 504 of the rehabilitation act of 1973.
Each of these documents have accountability systems set up. It's just knowing where you need to look and who you need to talk to about the support documents. 504's get a bad reputation for not being enforceable. It's not that it's not enforceable, it's that it's enforceable in a different way.
Now when it comes to eligibility, this is very different between the two different documents. An IEP has eligibility categories. The federal government has said, here are all these different categories. I like to think of them as buckets. So there's these buckets and then we put the child's traits or needs inside of the buckets. We set them out and whichever bucket gets filled up fastest, that typically becomes the primary eligibility category and then sometimes there's a secondary eligibility category. The awesome thing about an IEP is that you're not limited to services based on that eligibility category.
In a 504 plan, what we're really looking for is does the child need additional things to access their education the same as their peers. So we're not really looking for an official category. We're looking for needs that are not being met, which are actually stopping a child from accessing their education the same as their peers. So they might need some additional supports, accommodations, modifications. We'll talk about that in just a minute and what those can look like. But it's not so much that they have to have a specific category, they just have to have specific needs.
Age limits, when it comes to an IEP, the age limit is the 22nd birthday.
But when it comes to a 504 plan, there is no age limit and it's not limited to the traditional school years. It can go onto college, it can go into a workplace and go to a lot of different places and follow with it with a child into adulthood because it's under a completely different law.
Now what does an IEP or a 504r actually do? An IEP is to provide a free and appropriate public education, to meet a child's unique needs, and to help prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living.
A 504 is giving equal access. It's a plan that designs equal access so a child can do the same thing as their peers or that a person could do the same thing as their peers. It doesn't have that extra layer of specialized instruction that an IEP has to support and teach a child.
Point number five, What's inside the documents. Inside of an IEP, you're definitely going to see goals. A child's going to have a deficit in specific areas that relate to those core areas of further education, employment, independent living. They're going to have deficits which are going to require goals and specialized instruction and maybe a different placement than the standard classroom and there's going to be services most likely inside of that IEP, whether it's from a resource teacher, an OT, a PT, a speech therapist.
A 504 plan is streamlined into accommodations, modifications and supports. So that could be things like having directions read to the child versus the child having to read directions by themselves. It can be an extra set of books. It could be specialized technology. It could be anything that they need to modify the environment or the lessons so they can do the same thing as their peers.
How often can the documents change? As often as needed, but the bottom line is that both documents need a thorough review annually to decide what is appropriate for the child going forward.
Is the document working? Is it not working? How much needs to be changed inside of that document?
These six points will help you as a member of an IEP team or a special education team or as a parent. Start asking the questions that you need to ask to ensure that every child is getting the education that they need for their future.
If you have more questions about the Master IEP Coach program and how you can not only dig deeper into this for your own family, for your classroom, but you also want to help others visit www.masterIEPcoach.com
If you sit at an IEP table, this checklist is for you! Parents, teachers, therapists and support team members... you can all use this tool for your next IEP meeting!