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What is an IEP?

An Individualized Education Program is a legal document under United States law that is developed for each public school child in the U.S. who needs special education. It is created through a team of the child's parent and district personnel who are knowledgeable about the child's needs.

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What is a 504?

A 504 Plan is a plan that lists the accommodations a school will provide (like audiobooks, note-taking aids, or extended time to complete tests) so that a student with a disability has equal access to the general education curriculum.

what to know

There are three main differences between 504 Plans and IEPs:

  1. The students served

  2. The services provided

  3. The eligibility process

 

The Students Served

Any student with a disability is eligible for 504 services. Generally, 504 Plans are used to help students with disabilities who may not be eligible for an IEP, but still need some accommodations at school. Students with more severe disabilities are usually eligible for IEPs. All students with IEPs are eligible for 504 Plans, but the opposite is not true.

The Services Provided

504 Plans list certain accommodations and instructions that are designed to help a student. Like 504 Plans, IEPs also list accommodations and instructions. However, a child with an IEP has more protections when it comes to discipline. 

Students with 504 Plans should be evaluated every so often to adjust their plans. Students must be evaluated before any major change (for example, a student given a helper to take notes for them because of a broken arm will be reevaluated once their arm is healed). Both 504 Plans and IEPs require student evaluations. But the rules about student evaluations are not the same. One big difference is that 504 Plans do not have strict guidelines about the types of evaluations necessary or when they should happen. 

Another difference between 504 Plans and IEPs is that 504 Plans do not need to be in writing. However, it is always a good idea to get the plan in writing. That helps you ensure that the school is doing what it said it would do.

 

 

The Eligibility Process

If you want to ask for a 504 Plan for your child, you must first contact the school. Specifically, you should contact the staff member in charge of the 504 process (sometimes called the 504 coordinator). This person is in charge of making sure the school follows 504 guidelines. Once you contact this person, you can ask for a copy of the school’s 504 policy and ask that your child be evaluated. You may want to make your request in writing. Use the Do-It-Yourself Letter Requesting Special Education Services (SES) or 504 Services tool to draft a letter requesting that your child be evaluated.

After the evaluation is done, the 504 coordinator will set up a meeting. At the meeting, a group of people who know your child will decide if they are eligible for 504 services. If your child is eligible, the people in the group could make your child’s 504 Plan. In an IEP eligibility meeting, that group includes the child’s parent(s). A big difference between the 504 and IEP processes is that you, the parent, do not have to be invited to the 504 meeting. You do have a right to know about the process. You can ask that your child be reevaluated if the school decided your child is not eligible for 504 services.

You can also request a due process hearing or file a complaint with the Michigan Department of Education if you disagree with the school’s decision or any part of the 504 Plan. 

What If My Child's 504 Plan Is not Being Followed?

When a student has a 504 plan, the student’s teachers and other school staff must follow this plan. If your child’s 504 plan is not being followed, you can write a letter to the 504 coordinator to ask for a review or follow your child’s school district internal complaint process. Most school districts have information about their complaint process on their website. If your child’s school district does not have this information on their website, you can call the school district’s main office. 

You can also request a Section 504 hearing or file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (USDOE-OCR). The USDOE-OCR process has a strict time limit, so it is best to file right away. If you want to file a complaint with USDOE-OCR, you may want to discuss this option with a lawyer. 

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