Home > Ask the Advocate > Key Differences Between Section 504 and IDEA by Pat Howey, Special Education Advocate
Are you confused about the differences between Section 504 and IDEA? You aren't alone. It's important for the parent to understand that their child has different rights under Section 504 and IDEA.
Here are a few important differences between these two laws.
1. Section 504 does not require written plans.
2. Parents have few rights under Section 504.
3. The school does not have to invite the parent to the meeting when the 504 plan is developed. The school must notify the parent that a 504 plan was developed.
4. Section 504 has fewer procedural safeguards to protect the parent and child.
5. What appears to be discrimination may really not be discrimination.
6. Section 504 protections follows the child after s/he leaves the public school system. IDEA does not.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act covers several areas: preschool, elementary and secondary schools, employment practices, accessibility, health, welfare, and social services.
Parental Rights Under Section 504
504 does not require the school to invite the parents to 504 meetings.
Schools can comply with these requirements by using the procedural safeguards in IDEA but are not required to do so.
Many schools develop IDEA-like procedures to protect themselves. These schools know that if they develop an IEP, regardless of how pitiful the IEP is, the Office of Civil Rights will find that the school offered FAPE (free appropriate public education) under Section 504.
Section 504 Does Not Require Written
Your school, school district or state may have developed a policy of using a procedural safeguards in a written 504 plan that are similar to those in IDEA, but this is not required under Section 504.
written policies have been required since 1973 under the self-evaluation
section of Section 504. (The Americans with Disabilities Act also includes
a provision about self-evaluation.)
504 require schools to provide the child with an appropriate public
The purpose of IDEA is different:
ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a
free appropriate public education that emphasizes special education
and related services designed to meet their unique needs and
prepare them for further education, employment and independent living
and to ensure that the rights of children with disabilities
and parents of such children are protected . . ." (Section 1400(d) -
Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, 2nd Ed., page 48)
Parents have no rights after their child leaves public school under Section 504 or IDEA.
Read more articles by Pat Howey in Ask the Advocate including:
Understanding the Playing Field: Power Struggles, Meetings, Follow Up Letters
Advocacy Strategies: Filing a Complaint with the StateMeet Pat Howey
Patricia Howey has supported families of children with disabilities since 1985. She has a specific learning disability and became involved in special education when her youngest child entered kindergarten. Pat has children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren who have a variety of disabilities and she has used her experience to advocate for better special education services for several of them.
Pat began her advocacy career as a volunteer for the Task Force on Education for the Handicapped (now InSource), Indiana’s Parent Training and Information Center. In 1990, she opened her advocacy practice and served families throughout Indiana by representing them at IEP meetings, mediation, and due process hearings.
In 2017, Pat closed her advocacy practice and began working on a contract basis as a special education paralegal. Attorneys in Indiana, Texas, and California contracted with her to review documents, spot issues, draft due process complaints, prepare for hearings, and assist at hearings. In January 2019, she became an employee of the Connell Michael Kerr law firm, owned by Erin Connell, Catherine Michael, and Sonja Kerr. Her duties have now expanded to assisting with federal court cases.