Law Office of Michelle Ball General The Simple Difference Between Getting An IEP Or A 504 Plan

The Simple Difference Between Getting An IEP Or A 504 Plan


504 Plan versus IEP: Which one will a qualified student get?

Last Updated on October 27, 2021 by Michelle Ball

By Michelle Ball, Sacramento California Expulsion, Special Education, sports/CIF, College, Education and School Attorney/Lawyer for Students since 1995

If a student may have a qualifying disabling condition, they may be assessed by a school for both special education and a “504 Plan.” But is there a difference between a student with a qualifying disability getting a 504 Plan versus an IEP? Yes, and the reason may be simple.

Qualified student under 504 or IDEA
Will a qualified student get a 504 Plan or an IEP? Parents need to know the thing that may decide.

Presumption: Student DOES Have a Qualifying Disabling Condition

To understand the simple difference between getting a 504 or an IEP, we need to presume that the student has a qualifying disability which would meet either 504 or IEP requirements (which vary). The question of what disabilities may qualify a student for 504 or an IEP will be left for another day.

What is an IEP Plan?

First, let’s go over what an IEP Plan is. An IEP plan, aka Individualized Education Program is a unique written plan tailored to a student who does qualify for special education and it generally includes these items:

  • Present levels of performance
  • Student strengths
  • Student weaknesses
  • Goals for the student to achieve in the upcoming calendar year
  • Services which will be provided to the student to meet those goals, such as related services (speech and language, occupational therapy, behavior support, adaptive physical education, or other student support)
  • Placement for the student (general education, special education, type of program)
  • Accommodations for the student (e.g. extended time, frequent breaks, advanced teacher notes, etc.)
  • Notes from any meeting about developing the plan
  • Other items to support the student
  • Attendees signatures

This is not a complete list.

504 Student in schools versus IDEA and an IEP
A 504 has far less supports for students, but many can still be helped greatly.

What is a 504 Plan?

A 504 Plan is a document which includes accommodations for students (usually in the general education environment).

A 504 Plan for a qualified student usually includes:

  • Accommodations for the student (e.g. extended time, frequent breaks, advanced teacher notes, etc.)
  • Notes from any meeting about the document
  • Attendees signatures

Depending on who writes the 504, the accommodations could be tailored to the student or not.

What Is Omitted From a 504 Plan But Included in an IEP?

Some things may be in an IEP Plan but NOT included in a 504 Plan, such as:

  • Present levels of performance
  • Student strengths
  • Student weaknesses
  • Goals for the student to achieve in the upcoming year
  • Services which will be provided to meet those goals, such as related services
  • Placement for the student outside general education
  • Other items
Students of all ages may need 504s or IEP Plans.
Does a qualified disabled student need special education and related services or not? This is the key question.

The Key Reason a Student Gets a 504 Plan Versus an IEP

Presuming a student is a qualified disabled student under both laws, the types of services a student needs are the key to whether a student will get an IEP or 504 Plan.

If a student has a qualifying disability but DOES NOT REQUIRE “special education and related services” the student will not qualify for special education or an IEP.

If the same disabled student DOES REQUIRE special education and related services, the student should qualify for an IEP.

More Students Qualify Under Section 504

Section 504 is much broader in its coverage as far more disabling conditions qualify for a Section 504 plan than IEPs.

Students with a qualifying disabling condition who don’t qualify for an IEP, as they don’t need special education and related services, often qualify for a 504 Plan.

Can a Student Have Both a 504 Plan and an IEP?

Yes, but why? The accommodations included in a 504 Plan are incorporated into an IEP. Having both plans only causes confusion with teachers and school staff who don’t know which one takes precedence.

Why Does My School Keep Saying I Can Get Everything Under 504?

They are fibbing.

Since the Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) changed to exclude students from special education qualification who do not need special education and related services, most school districts push parents toward a 504 Plan, even if a student conceivably could get an IEP.

I believe this is because 504s tend to be less trouble, are usually implemented only in the regular classroom, are cheaper for schools, have less impact on student expulsions, and provide less services for students.

Badly written 504s and IEPs are not worth much
Badly written 504s and IEPs are not worth the paper they are written on and may fail to help students sufficiently.

Are 504 Plans Okay?

Yes, student-tailored 504 Plans are more than okay. If a student does not qualify for special education, a 504 Plan can be the difference between a student’s success and failure.

Additionally, some parents don’t want students in special education classes and want them to just get minimal supports in the form of accommodations. 504 Plans can be fantastic for these needs.

One key with 504s is to ensure that they are well written and are not just school boilerplate. If they are just forms that have no heart or accommodations actually molded to the individual student, they may not be worth much.


Student lawyer Michelle Ball assists parents and students with the development, implementation, and enforcement of IEPs and 504 Plans. As an attorney she can assist throughout California from her office in Sacramento, in places such as Vacaville, Fairfield, Elk Grove, Meadow Vista, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Granite Bay, Folsom and Fresno.