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Just as the needs of children can be complex, so too are the ways they are addressed. Federal laws — the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act — ensures the educational rights of children with disabilities and applies to schools receiving federal funds. But it is up to school districts to implement individual plans resulting from the federal protections, called Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and 504 plans.

504 Plans certainly have their place in our education system. After all, they guarantee access to a student’s education, when a disability may be prohibiting access. What’s unfortunate is that we see too many 504 Plans being handed out to pacify parents and avoid IEP evaluations. Or, when a 504 plan is warranted, it’s terribly insufficient and does nothing to help the child. This article will discuss how you can know when a 504 plan is not enough and what to do. But first things being first, let’s understand the difference between the both terms.


An IEP falls under IDEA, a federal special education law. IEPs are available to children whose educational performance and/or ability to learn in a general curriculum are affected by at least one or more disabilities . An IEP provides individualized special education and related services. It may include accommodations (changes to the learning environment) and modifications to what the child is expected to know. It also outlines how a child will participate in standardized testing and will be included in general education classes and school activities. A team of school staff, parents and possibly others create the written plan that includes goals, progress tracking and services from specialists like occupational and speech therapists.

On the other hand, a 504 plan is covered by Section 504 of the federal civil rights law to stop discrimination against public school students with a disability. Eligibility is based on a broader definition of disability than IDEA, and the disability must substantially interfere with a student’s ability to learn in a general education classroom. The plan does not have to be written and does not include special education services, however an IEP does involve college but a 504 plan does. It typically includes accommodations such as extended time on tests, extra textbooks for home, preferred seating in a classroom and breaks during class.

When is a 504 Plan not enough?

A 504 Plan may be an ideal option when the student is able to function well in a regular education environment with accommodations. The 504 is generally less restrictive than the IEP, and it is also less stigmatizing.

However an IEP is a better option for students with a disability that is adversely impacting education. Students who need more than just accommodations to regular education would need an IEP instead of a 504 plan. Eligibility in Special Education opens the door to a variety of related services and supports.

For instance, a 504 plan is completely appropriate for a child who only has a vision disability and needs large print books. Large print books give the child access. They do not teach a child to read, as it is only accommodations. A child with dyslexia will not learn to read with a 504 plan.


If it doesn’t seem like any changes to the 504 plan will help, it may be time to consider special education through an IEP. You can ask for a free evaluation for special education at any time. Just keep in mind that not every child qualifies.

Qualifying conditions for an IEP

  • Intellectual disability
  • Specific learning disability
  • Emotional disturbance
  • Speech or language impairment
  • Hearing impairment, including deafness
  • Visual impairment, including blindness
  • Deaf-blindness
  • Orthopedic impairment
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Autism
  • Other health impairment
  • Multiple disabilities


Sometimes, 504 plans seem extremely overused, and then kids are not getting the interventions they need. 504 plans are great for the kids who can learn with just accommodations…but they are not meant to be an “IEP light” or an IEP trial. If your child has a unique disability that is adversely impacting his/her education, a 504 plan will not be enough to help the child , please keep pushing for an IEP and use your Procedural Safeguards.

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