The School Wants to Move My Child From an IEP to a 504 Plan. How Will That Affect My Child?
Andrea M. Spencer, PhD
Question: My son is in seventh grade and has had an IEP since second grade. We just had his re-evaluation and at the IEP team meeting the consensus was that he only needs a 504 plan now, with accommodations and some supports. I’m not sure I agree with this, and feel like I need more information. Why is this change being recommended, and how will it affect him?
You’re asking an important question. You’re part of the
IEP team. Any time the other
IEP team members recommend a change, it’s important to understand why.
Ideally, parents are involved in the decision-making process at an early stage. But even if that doesn’t happen, they still need to know all the considerations before they agree to a change.
The timing of this change, during middle school, is especially critical. You’ll want to ask many questions to understand why the team recommends ending his IEP. One of those questions is: “Why can’t he continue with an IEP?”
Let me explain why I say that.
For a number of years, the IEP team found your son to be
eligible for special education. With this new recommendation, the team is saying it no longer does.
What that means for your son depends a lot on what the re-evaluation showed, what his needs are, and what type of support he’ll get under the 504 plan. In any case, the move from an IEP to a
is a big change.
IEPs and 504 plans are
very different. To start with, they’re
covered by different laws. IEPs are covered by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). 504 plans are covered by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.
Because of their origins, these two documents have different purposes. And each one includes different types of support.
The purpose of IEPs is to provide a
. So an IEP may include a range of
supports and services to meet a child’s learning needs. The child might get special reading instruction and
, for instance. He might also get
such as extended time on tests and
The purpose of 504 plans is to provide access to general education. For that reason, 504 plans typically provide accommodations. Sometimes a 504 plan might also include
like speech-language therapy. But 504 plans typically don’t include specialized instruction.
Another big difference between IEPs and 504 plans is the planning process that goes into each one. You have different
legal rights with 504 plans.
For instance, your participation in the IEP process was required. With 504 plans, you don’t have a “right” to participate, although it’s best practice for schools to include parents.
Also, with 504 plans, the school doesn’t have to develop a written plan. There’s no standard format or content. And there are no specific timelines for monitoring progress.
That may make is sound like moving to a 504 plan is a negative. In fact, there can be advantages to it. If your child no longer needs an IEP, middle school is actually a good time for this change.
Moving to a 504 plan now can help your son prepare for life after high school. Once he graduates, supports and services under IDEA are no longer available. But as with an IEP, having a 504 plan in place can help him get disability services in college.
The change from an IEP to a 504 plan can mean more independence. It gives your child greater opportunity to use and build his
skills while he’s still getting support. It also gives him valuable time to understand his challenges better. He’ll need those skills more than ever after he leaves high school and enters either college or the workforce.
Still, these benefits exist only if your son is still getting the level of support he needs under the 504 plan. That’s why it’s important to know why the IEP team is recommending this move.
The IEP team based its recommendations on your son’s re-evaluation. So you need to understand what went into the evaluation, and
what the results mean.
Did it look at all aspects of your son’s disability? That’s a requirement of IDEA. If your son is currently performing at grade level, there may be a sense that he no longer needs the supports, services and regular progress reviews in the IEP.
But middle school can be a tough time for kids with learning and thinking differences. They face
increasing demands in a number of areas—academic, social and behavioral. Does the re-evaluation take these factors into account? What’s the evidence that suggests your son is meeting these expectations, beyond grades and test scores?
When you get answers to these questions, you may agree with the team’s recommendations. But what if you don’t? What if you think the re-evaluation wasn’t comprehensive, or you disagree with the conclusions?