So you have a child with a disability? Of course, as any loving and caring parent, you want the best for your child, including the best possible education.
When your child is about to start public school, though, you suddenly find yourself confronted with a slew of acronyms – IDEA, IEP, 504, and so on. Confusing!
But that’s not the end of it. The school is going to submit your child to a psycho-education evaluation to recommend a plan of action. You need to decide if their recommendation is what’s best for your child – IEP vs 504. But how?
What does IEP and 504 even mean?
The IEP, or Individualized Education Program, is a written program governed by the Individuals with Disability Education Act (IDEA), overseen by the U.S. Department of Education: Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services.
This program is available to children with disabilities from age 3-21 whose disability affects their learning negatively. It ensures that an eligible child receives personalized and specialized instruction to achieve meaningful progress in school and to prepare them for work and independent living.
The 504 Plan is a written plan governed by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, overseen by the U.S. Department of Education: Office of Civil Rights.
Section 504 protects people with disabilities during their lifetime, in any kind of school, work, social services, or health and welfare programs. The 504 Plan ensures that an eligible child who is attending school receives services to provide equal access to education and to help them succeed academically.
Both protect the student’s rights for education with the slightest limitations possible. Both call for the school to supply written instructions and provide governmental oversight of the school’s compliance with those instructions. And both furnish protection to the student before a disciplinary transfer can occur, if problems should arise.
IEP vs 504 – Which plan is best for your child?
That depends on if your child needs specialized instructions or not. Not all students with disabilities do.
If your child has been evaluated and the school recommends a 504 Plan, it would mean they don’t believe your child needs personalized instructions to be successful. Instead, in-class accommodations are given to better aid that student. At times, this recommendation is made for students who have physical disabilities which do not directly impact their ability to learn. All that is needed in this case is a document which outlines the specific accessibility requirements of your child to ensure that they have indiscriminate access to public education and services.
If the school recommends the IEP program, however, it would mean that they believe your child needs specialized instructions to make meaningful progress in learning. The requirements outlined by IDEA then control the procedure to develop a personal IEP program for your child, but the parents are involved in each meeting with school administrators. IDEA also mandates that documentation is kept to measure your child’s adaptive, cognitive, communicative, physical, and social-emotional development while in this program.
For example, a child with ADD/ADHD, developmental delay, or a learning disability, would probably require the curriculum modifications and personalized instructions that an IEP provides, because these types of disabilities directly interfere with their behavior and, in turn, with their educational growth. It is not uncommon that your school may start with a 504 plan in hopes that the accommodations made will be enough to support your child’s academic success.
On the other hand, a child in a wheelchair who has no other disability that keeps them from achieving academically but their lack of mobility, would not require specialized instructions and, therefore, would most likely do well under the guidelines the 504 Plan provides.
Which category does your child fall into? That’s the big question that must be answered. Of course, the school district will do their best to evaluate that, but if you disagree with their recommendation for your child, you have the right to request a review.
The bottom line is to give your child what’s best for them.