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Provo City School District

Sunset View Elementary School

Each week we will be sharing a tip from our school psychologist, Mrs. Rollins.

This week we are talking about the differences between 504s and IEPs.

First, what are they? Section 504 is a part of federal law concerning people with disabilities and their right to have equal access and opportunity to receive program benefits and services. An Individualized Education Program (IEP) is also a part of federal law concerning people with disabilities. Both apply to school settings, but why would a student need one, the other or maybe both?

In schools, Section 504 looks like a plan that a school team forms with parents to detail what modifications, support and accommodations their student with a disability needs to help them learn in a general education setting. The process to obtain a 504 plan typically starts with documentation of an existing disability and the educational need to have the plan in place. A 504 plan can exist at all levels of schooling including K-12 and college.

For IEPs, a child aged 3-21 in public school may be found eligible under 13 disability categories defined by law to receive specially designed instruction, modifications and accommodations to make progress in the general education curriculum. To obtain an IEP, your school receives a referral approved by the LEA (usually the school principal) from the parent or the teacher. This referral requires documentation of the need to evaluate. An assessment plan is sent to parents for approval and carried out over 45 school days to collect data to determine eligibility.

IEPs and 504s both help provide FAPE or a Free and Appropriate Education in public school. One difference is that an IEP applies to K-12 public education and a 504 applies to K-12 and college. Another difference is that an IEP includes a student with a disability needing specially designed instruction in addition to modifications and accommodations. A 504 can have services, but they don’t require specially designed instruction. Services on a 504 are helping the student with a disability access a general education setting.

Specially Design Instruction that happens with an IEP is defined under special education law. Specially designed instruction means adapting as appropriate the content, methodology and delivery of instruction to address the unique needs of the child that result from the child’s disability and to ensure access of the child to the general curriculum, so that the child can meet the educational standards within the jurisdiction of the public agency that apply to all children. This legal definition of Specially Designed Instruction is why students with IEPs often receive services outside of the general education setting, so that their instruction can be specified to their unique needs. This is what most people think of when they think of an IEP, but most students with IEPs still spend a majority of their day with their peers in a general education setting. . Another key difference is that IEPs and 504 plans come from different parts of disability law so they are funded differently. The reason a student might have one or the other may be due mainly to their need or lack of need for Specially Designed Instruction.

The reason they might have both is to access funding from both areas to support a student with a high amount of need. All determinations for both IEPs and 504 plans are done with the school team and parents of the student with a disability.

The Utah Parent Center is a great resource for more information on Special Education Law and pretty much every topic for students with disabilities in parent friendly formats. They also promote many free parent trainings and resources that can be very valuable to inform parents. They have an hour long recorded presentation that goes much more in depth about IEPs and 504s. Check them out at: and the training at:


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