With the new school year upon us, one of the important tasks of getting ready for school is to decide what, if any, accommodations your child will need in order to be successful. There are two laws that work to ensure that children with health challenges have access to appropriate educational environments. One is Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the other is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
With these two laws are two plans – the Rehabilitation Act allows a “504 Plan” and IDEA allows an Individualized Education Plan, most commonly referred to as an IEP. Though both plans are meant to protect the rights of challenged children, there are times when one is better than the other.
Overall, an IEP is best for children who will need adjustments to the content of their education. A 504 Plan is best for children who will need adjustments to the environment in which education takes places. Keeping this distinction in mind can help you advocate for the plan that will be most useful to your child with health challenges.
Use the following descriptions to help your child’s school design the plan that best supports your child:
1. 504 Plan
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was meant to stop discrimination against all people with disabilities. This includes children in classrooms, but also includes adults in the general population. This means that a 504 Plan based on the Rehabilitation Act will be better at spelling out the accommodations your child will need to meet the physical demands of the classroom environment. This doesn’t mean that 504 plans are limited to only children with physical and not cognitive challenges – a child with ADD/ADHD or a learning disability may benefit from some of the environmental accommodations defined in a 504. But in general, a 504 Plan can help your child thrive in the environment of the classroom but will not necessarily adjust the content of the instruction he or she receives.
2. Individualized Education Plan (IEP)
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act was specifically written to make the content of education appropriate for children with cognitive, emotional or attentional challenges. The process of an IEP is much more involved than the process of a 504 Plan, but the results are more powerful too. An IEP has the potential to modify the curriculum, adjusting what your child learns and how he/she learns it (in addition to making the learning environment accessible).
Garth Sundem is a parent, husband, and author of books including “Real Real Kids, Real Stories, Real Change”.