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Section 504 and IDEA Comparison

lease note that Section 504, a civil rights law, is different from the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), a funding statute. Both the IDEA and Section 504 guarantee students with disabilities access to a free and appropriate public education. However, there are major differences between them, specifically in the criteria used to determine eligibility and the definition of a free and appropriate public education. For a student to receive special education services under the IDEA, the student’s educational performance must be adversely affected by the disability and the child must be in need of special education services (i.e. specially designed instruction). Section 504 is not limited to specific disability categories and does not require evidence that the disability adversely affects the student’s educational performance. Students who are found not to be eligible for services under the IDEA may be eligible for accommodations under Section 504.

While students who are eligible under IDEA are also often considered to be students with disabilities protected from discrimination under Section 504, all accommodations for the student’s disability are made through the IDEA process. Students who qualify for special education programs and services with a disability listed in the IDEA have their educational plan written in an IEP. That is, a student should not have an Individualized Education Program or “IEP” under the IDEA and also a 504 Plan. Moreover, the Section 504 plan usually outlines the accommodations and services that will allow a child to access the curriculum. A Section 504 plan is less specific than an IEP.