Everything you should know about section 504 and the IDEA

Every U.S. child can get a public school education, but some people with disabilities and special needs have special rights under Section 504 and the IDEA. Here are a few things you should be aware of concerning Section 504 and the IDEA that will help you ensure your child with a disability gets the best possible education:

Differences between section section 504 and the IDEA

If you are a parent of a child with disabilities, it is essential to know they have different rights under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). There are special education laws that must be followed when eligible students attend a public school. Here are the differences:

The Basics: Section 504 requires public schools with the participation of parents to make the environment accessible for children with disabilities.  A 504 Plan incorporates accommodations that will make learning easier for them. On the other hand, the IDEA requires a public school to work with parents to develop an individualized education program, or IEP, which provides “specialized instruction,” accommodations and therapies to accomplish educational goals.

The Purpose: The purpose of the IDEA is to provide kids with disabilities an individualized plan to meet that child’s unique educational needs. On the other hand, Section 504 is focused on preventing discrimination against children with disabilities who would not otherwise be on a “level playing field” with their typically developing peers.

Evaluation process: An evaluation is necessary to determine if a child qualifies for a 504 Plan and an IEP. However, the evaluation approach is slightly different. To start the process of getting an IEP, either the parent or the school requests an evaluation which is usually administered by a school psychologist.  The parent must consent to the evaluation.  Usually there will be a meeting with the parent to review in which areas the child will be evaluated.

However, for Section 504, the evaluation process may be less formal.  Strictly speaking, a 504 Plan doesn’t need to be in writing and generally parents and students have fewer rights under it.  We recommend that parents do request a 504 meeting to participate in the development of the 504 Plan.

Many People Ask: Is a 504 Plan a Disability?

A 504 Plan is not a disability, in and of itself.  A 504 Plan is developed for a child with a disability whose physical or “mental” impairment diminishes their ability to access their education.  The accommodations students with physical disabilities need may be straightforward depending on the child’s disability.  The accommodations students with “mental” impairments, such as anxiety, dyslexia and ADHD may be less obvious.  Some children with “mental impairments” will qualify for an IEP because they need specialized instruction.  Qualifying for help under a 504 Plan or IEP should not be considered a negative or a drawback.  Section 504 is just one more way you can support your child in their academic career.

Disabilities Covered Under a 504 Plan

If your child has a mental or physical impairment which significantly impacts how they perform a “major life activity,” they are likely to qualify for a 504 Plan. The following are some examples of “major life activities”:

  • Breathing
  • Learning
  • Concentrating
  • Reading
  • Walking
  • Speaking
  • Self-care

Can a Student with ADHD Receive a 504 Plan or IEP?

The short answer is “Yes.”  ADHD is one of the most common disorders affecting students. If the student with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder needs only accommodations, such as prompts to stay on task or testing in a quieter room, they may only need a 504 Plan.  If the child also needs specialized instruction because they are significantly below grade level, they will need an IEP. 

If you have a child living with a disability, obtaining a plan like an IEP or 504 can give them a great opportunity to improve their educational performance and secure a bright future.

And if you’re not sure where to get started, you’re not alone! Getting one of these plans, particularly an IEP, is complicated.  Making School Work is here to help you do just what our name implies — to make school work for kids with disabilities. Contact us today for help getting your child’s needs met.