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Special needs children require extra care and planning for their educational needs. Fortunately, various federal and state laws and protections exist to help safeguard these vulnerable members of society and ensure that they receive a quality education.

The Rehabilitation Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) are two laws that contain valuable protections for disabled children.

These laws require that schools create educational plans or programs, such as the 504 plan and the Individual Education Program (IEP), to help disabled children receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE).

Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)

FAPE is the federal right for disabled and special-needs children to receive a free appropriate public education.

For a disabled or special-needs child, this includes individualized educational programs and attention when necessary, as well as full access to all educational programs, tools, equipment, and other items used at educational facilities. 

FAPE also includes provisions calling for school officials to educate disabled children in the least restrictive environment (LRE) available so as to give the child as normal an educational experience as possible.

504 Plans

The 504 plan gets its name from its location in the Rehabilitation Act. Outlined in Section 504, the 504 plan is a kind of blueprint or roadmap detailing the precise steps a school must take to accommodate a particular special-needs or disabled child in their pursuit of FAPE.

Institutions that receive federal funding must comply with the terms of the Rehabilitation Act and Section 504. Since most schools in Ohio and Kentucky receive some sort of federal funding, these schools create 504 plans for their special-needs students. 


“IEP” stands for “individualized education program.” These programs also serve as a guide for the educational destiny of special-needs children. They’re fairly common throughout the state and are typically created by:

  • Teachers
  • School administrators
  • Parents
  • School and private psychologists
  • Students

Once a specialist determines that a child has a disability that interferes with their learning, an IEP will be developed that specifically outlines the services and support the child will receive moving forward. 

IEPs aren’t optional when a disabled student enters a school — the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) makes it clear that all public schools must have them when educating disabled and special-needs children. 

The Difference Between 504 Plans and IEP

504 plans and IEPs both aim to protect the rights of special-needs and disabled children to FAPE. However, there are important differences in how each does so.

Access to Learning vs. Experience Plan

504 plans deal specifically with children’s access to education, whereas IEPs focus on the individual educational and experiential plan a student should have. 

For example, a 504 plan would detail the steps the school must take to allow a specific student to participate in gym class. The IEP, on the other hand, would lay out the learning timeline for particular subjects for a particular child.

General vs. Specific Disabilities

The qualification process for 504s and IEPs is somewhat different. To be eligible for a 504, a child may have any disability that interferes with their ability to learn in a classroom.

By contrast, IEP eligibility requires that a child have one or more of 13 disabilities that negatively affect educational performance and ability to learn in or benefit from school. 

As you can see, IEP eligibility is a bit stricter than 504 eligibility. Fortunately, children who don’t qualify for IEPs can still receive 504 plans.

Meet With a Knowledgeable Special Education Lawyer Today

The experienced special education lawyers at Shaw & Nelson, PLLC, are ready to meet and discuss the education options available to children of families in Louisville and Cincinnati. Contact us today to schedule a no-cost consultation.