IDEA and Section 504

IEPs and 504 Plans

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504) are federal laws intended to support persons with disabilities. 

1. Purpose of the IDEA and Section 504:

The IDEA is a federal funding law that provides state and local financial aid for special education and related services for children with disabilities in public schools. 

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act is a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination of children and adults with disabilities. Section 504 applies to public and private elementary and secondary schools and colleges that receive federal funding. It also applies to employers that receive federal funding.

2. What the IDEA and Section 504 promise:

Under the IDEA, a child is to be provided a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to meet the child's unique needs in the least restrictive environment

Section 504 requires public and private schools to provide an appropriate education to each qualified school-aged child with a disability who is in the school district’s jurisdiction, regardless of the nature or severity of the child’s disability. 

3. IEPs and 504 plans:

An individualized education program (IEP), contains a statement of the special education and related services to meet a disabled student's unique needs. To create an IEP, parents, teachers, other school staff, and sometimes the student, meet to consider the student's needs. The IEP they develop guides the delivery of special education supports for the student to enable the child to be involved in and progress in the general education curriculum. 

504 plans are available to children to enable them to receive an appropriate education comparable to that provided to children without disabilities. Section 504 does not require schools to invite parents to the meeting where the 504 Plan is developed. 

4. Eligibility under the IDEA and Section 504:

Under the IDEA, children with special needs who are three to twenty-one-years-old (and some twenty-two-years-olds) who need special education and related services, may be made eligible if their disability falls within one or more of thirteen categories: mental retardation, hearing impairment (including deafness), speech or language impairment, visual impairment (including blindness), emotional disturbance, an orthopedic impairment, autism, traumatic brain injury, other health impairment, specific learning disability, deaf-blindness, or multiple disabilities. 

Persons protected under Section 504 include those who (1) have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, including: walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, working, caring for oneself, and performing manual tasks, (2) have a record of such an impairment or (3) are regarded as having such an impairment.


5. Assessments to determine eligibility under the IDEA and Section 504:

Under the IDEA, a child is provided with a comprehensive assessment in all areas of suspected disability to determine whether the child is eligible for special education and related services, and if so, the child's unique needs. A team of persons, called an IEP team, which includes one or both of the child's parents, determines whether the child is eligible for special education. Reevaluations are to be conducted at least every three years.

Assessments under Section 504 are generally much less comprehensive than those provided under the IDEA. Section 504 requires that information about the child be obtained from a variety of sources regarding the area of concern. No specific assessment process is included in Section 504. However, Section 504 requires that school districts evaluate any person who, because of disability, needs or is believed to need special education or related services. Section 504 evaluation standards and procedures may be different for each school district. The district may choose to use the special education assessment process or develop a separate process for Section 504 evaluations. 

6. Procedural rights under the IDEA and 504 plans:

The IDEA includes various procedural safeguards to protect the child and the parent. These safeguards include the right to participate in all meetings, to examine all educational records, to obtain an independent educational evaluation (IEE) at public expense, the right to written notice when the school proposes to change or refuses to change the identification, evaluation, or placement of a child. One of the most important safeguards for students  is the maintenance of current educational placement during the resolution of a dispute, which is often called "stay put."

Section 504 has fewer procedural safeguards than the IDEA to protect the parent and child. Section 504 requires notice to parents regarding the identification, evaluation, and placement of a student before a significant change in placement is to be made. When a 504 plan is developed, the school does not have to invite the parent to the meeting. Section 504 offers not right to stay put during the resolution of a dispute.

7. Rights after public secondary school:

Once a student leaves public secondary school, the rights and privileges guaranteed under the IDEA are no longer available to the student.

Section 504 rights generally follow the student after the he or she leaves the public school system. For a information on what rights of learning disabled students continue after high school, read the wonderful article by Patricia Latham.

8. Due process under the IDEA and Section 504:

For parents who disagree with the identification, evaluation, or placement of a child with special needs, the IDEA includes a detailed accounting of the the right of parents to due process. Due process may be provided through the Special Education Division of the Office of Administrative Hearings.

Section 504 requires local school districts and county offices of education to provide impartial hearings for parents who disagree with the identification, evaluation, or placement of a student.  Under Section 504, parents have an opportunity to participate in the hearing process and to be represented by an attorney.  Other details of due process are left to the discretion of the local education agency.

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