IDEA // 504

What does my child need to succeed?

What's IDEA?

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was created in 1990 with the purpose of ensuring that all individuals that qualify for special education will receive related services. According to IDEA, any state that receives Federal funding for education is required to supply their students with disabilities a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) as well as being taught in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). With a Least Restrictive Environment, students who have a disability should be afforded the opportunity to be in the general education classroom, learning with peers who do not have a disability. Under IDEA, students receiving special education and related services are covered from preschool (3 years old) through age 21, and the services must be created to meet the individualized needs of the student. Each student that is eligible for special education under IDEA will also receive their own Individualized Education Plan (IEP). This will have academically and socially accomplishable goals and will be re-evaluated and changed as the student gains progress. It is expected that once the student is done with their education that they will be able to attain all their IEP goals and be ready for potentially move on to higher education, employment, and independent living situations to the best of their ability.

The 14 categories of disability under IDEA are:

  1. Autism
  2. Deaf-blindness
  3. Deafness
  4. Developmental delay
  5. Emotional disturbance
  6. Hearing impairment
  7. Intellectual disability
  8. Multiple disabilities
  9. Orthopedic impairment
  10. Other health impairment
  11. Specific learning disability
  12. Speech or language impairment
  13. Traumatic brain injury
  14. Visual impairment

What's a 504 Plan?

A 504 Plan is for students who may not necessarily be eligible for special education in conjunction with IDEA, but definitely need help and specific accommodations and modification to aid their success in the classroom. A 504 Plan refers to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, which essentially states that no one person with a disability can be excluded from federally funded school activities or programs because of their disability. In this case, a disability is defined as "a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities." This can include anything from an illness (Diabetes), physical disability, learning problem (ADHD), etc. However, there is no automatic qualification for a 504 Plan; an impairment in and of itself is not a disability. A medical diagnosis of an illness does not necessarily mean a student can receive services under Section 504 - a physician's medical diagnosis does not suffice as an evaluation, but it may be considered among other sources to allow your student to be in favor of a 504 Plan.

Let's Review: Comparing IDEA & 504

  • IDEA: a federal law that ensures a free and appropriate education (FAPE) for children with disabilities, as long as they fall within the specific disability categories as defined by the statute.
  • 504: a civil rights law that provides students with special needs the ability to participate with their peers as much as possible.

  • IDEA: students between the ages of 3-21 whose disabilities do not allow them to gain benefits from a general education settings on all occasions.
  • 504: students with a physical or mental impairment that restricts/limits one or more life activity


  • IDEA: in addition to what is offered in the general education classroom, students receive individual attention and support.
  • 504: requires school settings to adapt and modify in order to create an even playing field in order for students to fully participate in programs offered in the general classroom.

Requirements for Delivering Services

  • IDEA: requires an Individual Education Plan (IEP) that contains all goals and expectations of the student.
  • 504: basic documentation but does not require an IEP


  • IDEA: states receive Federal Funding
  • 504: no additional funding provided

Due Process

  • IDEA: districts are required to provide hearings to parents who disagree with their child's specific education plan.
  • 504: districts are required to provide a grievance procedure to parents who disagree with their child's specific education plan.