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The value to students

IEPs and 504 plans

IEP's and 504 plans have 5 major differences:

  • IEPs are required by law, while 504 plans are not.

  • IEPs must be reviewed and updated annually, while 504 plans do not have to be.

  • IEPs are developed by a team of educators and other professionals, while 504 plans can be developed by parents or guardians without input from school personnel.

  • IEPs must include specific goals and objectives for the child, while 504 plans do not have to.

  • IEPs can provide more specialized services and supports than 504 plans, such as related services like speech therapy or behavioral interventions.

IEP Plans vs. 504 Plans

IEP vs 504

There are many differences between an IEP and a 504 plan, but the legal one is different laws govern them. The differences between these two laws dictate what types of services a student would receive based on their disability.

IEP's are governed under special education law

  • Education Act (IDEA)

  • A function of Special Education

  • To be qualified for an IEP, there has to be a qualifying disability or condition (list 13 disabilities)

  • Also has to affect their performance in the classroom adversely

  • Concentrating on what the student is learning

  • Accommodations

  • Has specially designed instruction (SDI)

  • Requires specific team members

  • Long term plans based on 1 year progress markers and 3 year redetermination of eligibility

  • Parent consent required

  • States received additional funding for special education students

504 is governed under civil rights law

  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

  • A function of General Education

  • 504 disability is getting in the way of ability to learn in the classroom

  • Concentrating on how the student is learning

  • Accommodations

  • No specially designed instruction (SDI)

  • Does not require specific team members

  • Long or short term plans based on need of the student and disability

  • Parent consent recommended (check your state and district guides to be safe)

  • State do not receive additional funding for students with 504 plans

Both IEP's and 504's require a process for student evaluation and these services are provided to the family free of charge as the schools work to meet the needs of the student receiving the plan.

Development of a 504 plan

504 plans do not have a standard format used by all schools. When writing a 504 plan, it is crucial to evaluate your district's form or sample forms you may find on the Internet to make sure it is adequate compared to the needs of the student.  The desired outcome is that the student's needs are met. What obstacle are you trying to overcome and what accommodation can best support the student.  If your form does not include all necessary items, find another form or an addendum can be added to document the student's requirements and methods of support properly.

Specific disabilities most often covered by a 504 plan 


  • Allergies

  • Arthritis

  • Cancer

  • Cerebral palsy

Starting point: Review the student's school data to get a clear overall view of student performance and disability. Know all the facts before approaching the family about an official plan of action, such as a 504 plan. 

The process to initiate: Contact the parents and obtain written consent for evaluation before beginning any team meeting or formal evaluation.

Evaluation: Many 504 evaluations consist of the section 504 team interpreting and reviewing the student's current school records, prior testing scores, current report card grades, and teacher provided anecdotal evidence to determine the student's qualifications for accommodations in the general education classroom. Check with a district administrator to determine if there is a district recommended or provided an assessment to meet the requirements of your requirements for a 504 student plan. 

Accommodations: An accommodation changes the academic setting or environment to remove barriers and provides students with equal access to learning. Any method that alters but does not change the context of required work.

Planning a 504

Sample 504 plans

In the event that your district form is not appropriate, you can still use this sample plan to guide you through organize your thoughts and planning accommodation.

Sample 504

Short term 504 plans

A 504 plan can be created for student who has a temporary injury, like a broken arm or hand that would require classroom accommodation. The term of this type of 504 is generally for 4 to 8 weeks while a student recovers or until I cast can be removed.

Short Term 504
504 Mistakes

Common mistakes in a 504 plan

  1. The staff in charge of creating, administering, and participating as team leaders are not always the same person.  This makes it difficult because all parties are not always informed to everything a 504 plan can do for students. Many assumptions are that if the form is filled out and every checkbox is completed, then it is a complete 504 plan. 

  2. Special education teachers are not always included in the team of a student with a 504.  Special education teachers bring a breadth of knowledge to the table that can not be match by any other staff on campus when it come to student with disabilities and how to best accommodate and modify student environments.

  3. Parent are not always involved in the process for developing a 504 plan for their child.  It is not a legal requirements and often parents are overlooked as providers of key and helpful information.

  4. Because the guidelines for a 504 are so loose many district have canned or cookie cutter formats and services offered for them.  This leads to plans that are not specific to the child's needs and not as productive as they could be for the student.  

Can a student have an IEP and a 504?

The answer technically is yes from a legal stand point but since and IEP can include everything that would be covered in a 504 it is common practice to combine the two. 

Does my student need a 504 plan

When a student does not qualify for an IEP plan under disability criteria but still needs classroom assistance, a 504 plan can often bridge the classroom success gap.  Accommodations to the environment, assistive technology, and testing accommodations are all possible additions to the student's academic life, scaffolding them to more significant learning experiences.

If you are questioning if a 504 plan is the right fit for your student, complete the analysis of need worksheet to determine eligibility and brainstorm possible accommodations to enhance access to classroom learning.

Need Analysis
Principals Role
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