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Understanding IEP and 504 Eligibility in New Jersey

Last updated on: August 25, 2022

Although Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and 504 plans offer many of the same types of services for children with learning and attention issues, they are different in a few important ways. In many situations, a student may qualify for a 504 plan, but not an IEP. An IEP is generally a bit more focused than a 504 plan, but both programs can be extremely beneficial for students. For more information, speak with an experienced special needs trust attorney.

Eligibility Requirements for Both Types of Plans

IEP plans are based on the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Children must meet two requirements to be eligible:

  1. The child has one of 13 listed disabilities (many learning and attention issues will qualify) AND
  2. The disability affects the child’s performance at school or his or her ability to learn without specialized instruction.

Section 504 plans, on the other hand, are much broader. They cover any disability, whether or not it is on the specified list in the IDEA. Nonetheless, the impairment must substantially limit one or more primary life activities, which include learning. Your child’s disability must interfere with his or her ability to learn in a traditional classroom.

A 504 plan will only be in effect for children in grades K through 12. An IEP, on the other hand, can be in place as early as three years old and as late as 21 years old. Both programs are offered completely free to eligible students in New Jersey.

Evaluations and Assessments

In New Jersey, school districts are required to set up their own policies and procedures to evaluate children to determine whether they need special education or related services due to a disability. Teachers and administrators are required under Section 504 to provide an individualized assessment for a child before he or she is presented with specialized education or assistance.

Information used to determine whether a child is eligible under 504 may include:

  • Teacher feedback
  • Testing results
  • Parent input
  • Performance in the classroom generally
  • And more

Most children who have a 504 plan will spend the majority of their time in a general education classroom. However, they may also have certain accommodations, such as extended testing times or additional resources to study.

If you feel that your child would benefit from specialized education because of a disability, you should talk to your child’s teacher. Testing is only required to be performed periodically, so if you think there may be a problem, you should speak up to help your child get the assistance that he or she needs quickly.

If you are a parent interested in learning more about your rights in creating an IEP, read our blog here.

There Are Differences Between IEPs and the 504 Plans

Although IEPs share many commonalities, 504 plans and IEPs have important distinctions. It is important for a parent or guardian to know and understand the differences between the two plans in order to ensure that they choose what is best for their child. 

IEPs are designed to protect the rights of the child according to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This type of plan aims to meet the child’s individual educational needs through specialized instruction. An IEP provides additional intervention through specific instructional goals and objectives. They are reviewed and renewed yearly. 

On the other hand, the 504 plan provides accommodations for the child and does not require specialized instruction. They do not have to be renewed every year. A 504 Plan aims to provide a child with special needs access to public education and protects them from discrimination related to their disability. The plan ensures that the child will be provided accommodation and related services similar to non-disabled students. 

Furthermore, an IEP is only available to children who have at least one of the 13 disabilities listed in the IDEA. These disabilities include ADHD, autism, and others that have a significant impact on the child’s learning abilities. For a 504 plan, any child with a disability is eligible as long as the disability can interfere with the child’s learning abilities inside a classroom. 

Even though they have a couple of differences, both an IEP plan and a 504 plan are intended to help children with special learning needs and are both given to families at no extra cost.

If it seems like no one is listening to your concerns, it may be time to bring in a professional. The experienced legal team at Matus Law Group can help you communicate with the school so that you can create the best possible environment for your child. Contact us today—we are here to help!

Christine Matus

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Christine Matus

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