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What are I.E.P and 504 Plans: Untangling the Web of Disability Services in the Education System

When you have a child with a developmental disability, the lingo can seem confusing and overwhelming.  Depending on your child’s diagnosis, he or she may qualify to receive either a “504 Plan” or an “Individualized Education Plan” or “IEP” as it is commonly referred to. 

I am often asked by parents what these are and what they mean, below is a guide for parents:

A 504 Plan refers to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, which specifies that no one with a disability can be excluded from participating in federally funded programs or activities, including elementary, secondary or postsecondary schooling.  504 Plans spell out modifications and accommodations that will be needed for students to have an opportunity to perform at the same level as their peers and might include such things as an extra set of textbooks or a tape recorder for taking notes.  An “Individualized Education Plan” or “IEP”  spells out exactly what special education services your child will receive and why.  It will include your child’s classification, placement, services such as a one-on-one aide and therapies, academic and behavioral goals, a behavior plan if needed, percentage of time in regular education, and progress reports from teachers and therapists.  The IEP is tailored specifically to your child’s needs and is planned at an IEP meeting at your child’s school.  The difference between a 504 Plan and an IEP is that a 504 Plan, which falls under civil-rights law, is an attempt to remove barriers and allow students with disabilities to participate freely.  The 504 Plan seeks to level the playing field so that those students can safely pursue the same opportunities as everyone else.  An IEP, which falls under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, is much more concerned with actually providing educational services.  Students eligible for an IEP represent a small subset of all students with disabilities.  They generally require more than a level playing field; (SEMICOLON) they require significant remediation and assistance, and are more likely to work on their own level at their own pace even in an inclusive classroom.  

Only certain classifications of disability are eligible for an IEP.  Students who do not meet those classifications but still require some assistance to be able to participate fully in school would be candidates for a 504 Plan.  The neuropsychologist is there to help guide you through this process.  He or she will help you determine if your child should receive any of these accommodations or services and will attend school meetings with you to advocate for your child’s benefit if necessary.  It is very important to note that only public schools, and not private schools, are required to provide these types of services.  Part of your decision process after receiving a diagnosis may be deciding which type of school your child will attend.  This process can seem overwhelming, but IEPs and 504 Plans serve to best help your child achieve his or her maximum potential.

Recently, The Parent Educational Advocacy Training Center (PEATC) announced the development of an IEP Checklist iPhone application.  For more information see: http://www.peatc.org/peatc.cgim?template=iPhonePressReleaseKit.

If you have attended an IEP or 504, what are some tips you can give to parents who are new to the “IEP/504 World”?