504 Plans Vs. IEP’s

While 504 plans and IEP’s both offer supports and protections to students with disabilities, there are two very important differences between them. First, only IEP’s offer specialized instructional services. In order to qualify for an IEP, you need to demonstrate a disability that impacts your ability to learn; and the need for specialized instruction. For example, a 5th grade student with 3rd grade math skills would need specialized instruction to bring his math skills up to grade level. Second, there are more laws and agencies that govern the implementation of IEP’s. Therefore, there are far more legal protections for IEP’s than 504 plans.

To reinforce the difference between the two, please consider the three sample students below:

Student A – has vision problems, but with glasses, their learning is not impacted (they can see well enough to learn as expected) – The student does not qualify for any special services. They remain in regular education with no special supports.

Student B – even with glasses, the student can only see words on a page when they are in 24 font or larger. This student qualifies for a 504 plan, and they will receive special accommodations such as all written assignments printed in larger font, and special seating in class.

Student C – Even with glasses and accommodations, the student still can’t see well enough to learn at age expected levels. Therefore, they need special instruction/goals to learn braille and to walk with a cane. This student qualifies for an IEP.

If school staff state that your child does not need an IEP because they do not have any academic goals, they may or may not be correct. Student’s can receive IEP’s for non academic goals such as: organization; social skills/communication; and/or executive functioning, if they have a disability in these areas, and they need these skills to benefit from instruction. Put simply, IEP’s can be for non academic goals, despite the existence of that common misperception.

About speak45_wp

I graduated from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania in 1990 with a Bachelor’s in Special Education, and again in 1991 with a Master’s in Behavior Disorders. From 1991 to 2004, I worked as an Emotional Support Teacher in Southeast Pennsylvania. In July, 2004, upon graduation from Penn State University, I began working as a Pennsylvania Supervisor of Special Education until, shortly after my family and I moved to Maryland in October, 2013. In my 25 years of experience, I have: worked with students of varying ages and disabilities; participated in hundreds of IEP meetings; successfully implemented individualized services for thousands of students; and participated in dozens of due process cases. As a result, I am very familiar with the public education Special Education system policies, procedures, and services; as well as the potential road blocks parents may encounter in search for those services. In addition to my professional experience, I am also the father of two boys on the Autistic Spectrum. I know all too well what it feels like to: receive that diagnosis for the first time; work to learn all that you can about your child’s unique learning needs; try and educate and motivate school staff; passionately advocate for services (FAPE); get over emotional in IEP meetings; and fight vehemently with the school system to get the services you feel that your child deserves.

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