The Right Fit: 504 Plan or an Individualized Education Program (IEP)

Transitioning into a new school year can be exhausting; watching your child run out of his/her flip flops and walking into their school shoes. As parents, you understand the importance of having perfectly fitted shoes when strolling into the school year. It is equally important to have an academic plan tailored to your child’s needs. Students who require specially designed services need to start on the right foot to promote a smooth transition. Being mindful and faithful to your child’s disability can only ensure your child’s academic year is off on the right path.

If your child has a learning disability and requires accommodations to succeed in the classroom, there are a host of specialized services available. These specialized services are provided under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Understanding what your child qualifies for and how to access those services can be a challenge. Understanding the difference between a 504 Plan and an Individualized Education Program (IEP) can be your first step.

What is a 504 Plan and is it a good fit:

A 504 Plan is based on Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, a civil rights law that prevents discrimination based on physical disabilities. This federal law requires schools to eliminate any barriers that prevent students with disabilities from participating fully in their education. It also ensures that accommodations and support services are provided to students so they have equal access to education.

504 Plans are available for public school students who have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity, such as reading or concentrating. The evaluation can include a variety of questions, reviewing the student’s test, quizzes, and classwork within a class day, or it may be a formal evaluation with multiple education professionals – but it varies by school district.

Accommodations within a 504 plan:

A 504 Plan focuses primarily on how your child will have access to learning at school. For example, it might require a student’s classroom to be wheelchair accessible, the availability of braille workbooks for a student who is blind, or a sign language translator in the classroom for a student who is deaf. It may also include accommodations, such as extended time for tests or quizzes, no more than two exams in one day, or preferential seating in the classroom.  Additional examples are listed below.

  • Teaching Techniques: Adjust voice volume, increase eye contact, and use of visual aides
  • Learning Styles:  Oral instruction, front-loading vocabulary, class notes, and study guides in PDF format, Cornell Method, two days in advance in an organized manner.
  • Environmental:  Small class sizes, final 20 minutes of every school day devoted to helping students become and stay organized, assist with the use of assignment notebooks – teachers check for accuracy each class period.

What is an IEP and is this a better fit:

An IEP is a plan for a child’s specialized education experience at school. The IEP is a legally binding document that maps out your child’s learning needs, the services the school will provide, and how the plan will be measured and evaluated over time. The IEP should address your child’s unique learning concerns and include specific educational goals. Your IEP is designed to meet your child’s individual needs.

There is a legal standard for eligibility for your child to qualify for an IEP. He or she must have a disability that falls in one of thirteen disability categories, and this disability must prevent your child from progressing in school. Also, your child must undergo an evaluation process by a team of professionals, such as school psychologist, intervention specialists, guidance counselor, and the classroom teacher. The IEP team, which must include the parents, then reviews the evaluation results, which determines whether the student qualifies.

Getting the services your child needs:

If the child is struggling, the first step is to meet with the teacher or school administrator to share concerns. Remember, you know your child best. By understanding the basics of a 504 Plan and an IEP, you should be able to be a stronger advocate to get the services they need under the laws spelled out through IDEA and the ADA. Knowing all your options helps you find the RIGHT FIT.

Posted in Blog, Special Education.