IEP vs. 504 Plans

EB students in elementary and secondary schools are provided certain protections under federal law with regard to their right to receive a free and appropriate public education.  In order for EB parents to make informed educational decisions for their children, local school districts provide staff resources and instructions for specific plans individualized for each child. A brief description of two relevant federal laws that apply to EB students are below. 

Individualized Educational Plan (IEP)

This plan is developed between the EB family and the school system to ensure that the EB child attending elementary or secondary school receives specialized instruction and related services, which may include Occupational and Physical therapy. 

504 Plan

This plan is similar to an IEP and is developed to ensure certain accommodations are available to assist in the child's academic success.

Some differences between the two laws and their implementation do exist. Not all students who have disabilities require specialized instruction.  For those who do require specialized instruction, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) controls the procedural requirements, and an IEP is developed. The IDEA process is more involved than that of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and requires documentation of measurable growth.  For example, with an IEP, a student who struggles with going up and down stairs may be given the goal of independently using the stairs. Physical therapy services would assist the student in achieving this goal.

For those students who do not require specialized instruction but need the assurance that they will receive equal access to public education and services, a document is created to outline their specific accessibility requirements. Students with 504 Plans do not require specialized instruction, but, like the IEP, a 504 Plan should be updated annually to ensure that the student is receiving the most effective accommodations for the student's specific circumstances.  For example, a student with diabetes may be provided necessary time to monitor their blood sugar levels, yet the child does not need to meet a specific, measurable goal that the school systems assesses.

More information about these two important legal protections for disabled students can be reviewed by checking out the U.S. Department of Education's website relating to "Protecting Students with Disabilities," located at


School systems will work with you to collaboratively determine which program will work best for your child's needs.  debra of America recommends that you request a meeting from your school administrator before entering elementary school to discuss the desired accommodations and services for your child and follow the specific school guidance. EB children have successfully operated under both an IEP or 504 plan in place.

If you need assistance to ensure that your child's rights are being followed, it is probably best to consult with a professional who understands these laws, such as a Special Needs attorney.

If you need assistance finding a Special Needs attorney, please contact debra of America's Director of Legal Aid, Joe Murray at joe [at] debra [dot] org or 212 868-1573 x 125.