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Key Differences Between Section 504 and IDEA

By Pat Howey

Are you confused about the differences between Section 504 and IDEA? You aren’t alone. It’s important for the parent to understand that their child has different rights under Section 504 and IDEA.

Here are a few important differences between these two laws.

1. Section 504 does not require written plans.

2. Parents have few rights under Section 504.

3. The school does not have to invite the parent to the meeting when the 504 plan is developed. The school must notify the parent that a 504 plan was developed.

4. Section 504 has fewer procedural safeguards to protect the parent and child.

5. What appears to be discrimination may really not be discrimination.

6. Section 504 protections follow the child after s/he leaves the public school system. IDEA does not.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act covers several areas: preschool, elementary and secondary schools, employment practices, accessibility, health, welfare, and social services.

Minimal Parental Rights Under Section 504

Parents have few rights under 504 but they do have minimal rights.

Section 504 does not require the school to invite the parents to 504 meetings.

Section 504 does require schools to develop a system of procedural safeguards that includes notice (presumably to parents), an opportunity for the parent to review records, and an impartial hearing and review procedure.

Schools can comply with these requirements by using the procedural safeguards in IDEA but are not required to do so.

Many schools develop IDEA-like procedures to protect themselves. These schools know that if they develop an IEP, regardless of how pitiful the IEP is, the Office of Civil Rights will find that the school offered FAPE (free appropriate public education) under Section 504.

Section 504 Does Not Require Written 504 Plans

Parents are often surprised to learn that Section 504 does not require the school to develop a written 504 Plan.

Section 504 requires that the school develop a plan but does not require a written document. One way to handle this is to request an IEP that is developed in accordance with IDEA.

Your school, school district or state may have developed a policy of using a procedural safeguards in a written 504 plan that are similar to those in IDEA, but this is not required under Section 504.

However, written policies have been required since 1973 under the self-evaluation section of Section 504. (The Americans with Disabilities Act also includes a provision about self-evaluation.)

A Free, Appropriate Public Education Under Section 504

Does Section 504 require schools to provide the child with an appropriate public education?

Yes. Under Section 504, an “appropriate” education means an education that is comparable to the education provided to students without disabilities. This may include regular or special education services. Students can receive related services under Section 504 even if they are not provided with special education services.

The purpose of IDEA is different:

“to ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment and independent living” and “to ensure that the rights of children with disabilities and parents of such children are protected … (Section 1400(d))” (Wrightslaw: IDEA 2004, page 33)

Individualized Education Plan (IEP) Under IDEA

The Individualized Education Program (IEP) developed under IDEA may be used for the Section 504 plan. The IDEA requires the IEP to be written and include many specific details about services, accommodations, modifications, the degree to which the child will not be educated with nondisabled students and more. You need to read these requirements.

Section 504 Follows the Child, IDEA Does Not

When the child graduates from high school with a regular diploma or reaches the age of 22, the child’s entitlement to rights under IDEA ends. IDEA rights do not follow the child into college or the workplace. Section 504 provides protections against discrimination after the child leaves public school.

Parents have no rights after their child leaves public school under Section 504 or IDEA.

“Changing the World — One Child at a Time.”

Pat Howey
Special Education Consulting
POB 117
West Point, Indiana 47992-0117

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