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IEP vs. 504 Plan: What’s the Difference?

The world of special education (and education in general) is filled with acronyms and jargon, which can often make it even more difficult to navigate and understand. Two of the more important documents that families should be familiar with include IEPs (Individualized Education Plans) and 504 plans.

Not to be confused with one another, both formal documents provide important accommodations and information for any child with special needs, yet they are vastly different.

Here’s what you need to know about the similarities and differences of each.

What They Are

An IEP is a comprehensive document that essentially serves as a blueprint or roadmap for a child with special education services. It includes comprehensive information about a child’s diagnoses, needs, recommended services, and accommodations, and pretty much anything else pertaining to the child’s unique identifying factors. It’s formal and legally binding, and is the result of a comprehensive evaluation.

Dig deeper: What Is an IEP?

A 504 plan is also a map or plan, but it deals specifically with how a child will be learning within the school, and does not equate to a diagnosis or even formal special education services. The name of the document arises from Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities who are in need of accommodations. This is issued to students who are able to participate in a general education classroom, but still need accommodations that the school must provide.


  • Both documents outline accommodations for the student that are to be made under federal law.
  • Both documents are provided to all education and service providers who are responsible for the student named within the document.
  • Federal and state guidelines apply to both.


  • An IEP is an in-depth document for all students who require special education services. A 504 plan can accommodate students who can learn within a general education environment with stated modifications.
  • A 504 plan does not necessarily mean a child qualifies for special education services as per the child study team or districts’ respective equivalent.
  • 504 plans can be utilized on an as-needed basis – for instance, physical accommodations for a student with a temporary injury. IEPs constitute a fully active special education plan for students and are renewed annually.
  • Everything included in a 504 can be included in an IEP, but not everything in an IEP is included in a 504.
  • An IEP can provide services and supports that a 504 plan can’t, such as specialized instruction.

Important To Note

A child might technically be able to have both an IEP and a 504 plan, but often there is no need to have both.

Continue Your Research:

What Is Special Education? (Probably Not What You Think)

What Happens To Your Child’s IEP After High School?

Why Montessori Schools Can Be Awesome for Kids With ADHD

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Author: Erin Nicole Celletti

Erin Celletti is a freelance journalist and the Director of Communications at Integration Charter Schools. With seven years of classroom teaching and leadership experience, Erin has a BA in Journalism from Quinnipiac University, as well as a M.S.Ed. in Childhood and Special Education from St. John's University, and a M.S.Ed. in School and Building Leadership from Wagner College. Erin lives in Hoboken, NJ with her husband, and baby girl on the way. Her work has also appeared in BRIDES, Teen Vogue, Allure, and TODAY Parents.