Individual Education Plans & 504 Accommodations

504 Plan or IEP: Which is Appropriate for a Student with TS?

Every child has unique profiles, symptoms. Because of this, supports must be tailored to meet his or her specific needs. It is important to anticipate the different levels of need based on his or her symptoms. The information below explains different levels of support to assist in determining if an IEP or 504 Plan is more appropriate. Some children with TS have only mild tics which have no impact on their learning, functional emotional or social abilities. These children may never require any supports in school. However, these same children may have mild tics but are impacted significantly by some of the related difficulties such as sensory integration, obsessive compulsive challenges and attention deficit disorder. Also, it’s not unusual for a student with TS to start off with mild symptoms but then have a change or increase in symptoms in later years. In this case, the student may begin to require additional supports over time in order to continue to be successful academically and socially. Other children may have severe tics and coexisting conditions, from an early age. These children may struggle with all aspects of school, from academics to making friends, and require extensive accommodations and modifications in order to succeed. When this is the case, a decision must be made to determine if the child would benefit from accommodations & modifications, in which case a 504 plan may be sufficient. However, it’s not unusual for a student to require special education supports from an occupational therapist, speech pathologist, counselor, paraprofessional/aide, resource room and/or consultant teacher. When these services are necessary, an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) may be more appropriate.

There are significant differences between laws that govern IEP’s and 504 Plans. Individualized Education Programs (IEP’S) are governed under the Federal law, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  504 Plans are part of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act which is a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Both are federal laws and must be followed. IEP’s are developed to meet a student’s ‘unique needs’ while a 504 Plan is developed to ensure that a student has ‘equal access’ to an education similar to a student without a disability.

While both provide supports for students who have disabilities, the one that is most appropriate for a student with Tourette depends on the student.

Individualized Education Programs (Plans) are provided under the IDEA.  This law was passed in 1975 to provide a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) to students with disabilities. It governs all special education and related services. Some Federal funding is provided to partially cover the cost to state and school districts.

The IEP is a legal document which outlines the supports, services and goals in order to meet the ‘unique needs’ of an individual student so that they receive a free and appropriate public education.

IDEA states specific requirements for developing an IEP.

  1. Members of the IEP Team
    1. The student’s parent or guardian
    2. At least 1 of the student’s regular education teachers if student participates in regular education
    3. At least 1 of the student’s special education teachers or providers
    4. A representative of the school who is knowledgeable about general curriculum and district resources
    5. An individual who can interpret information from evaluations and impact on student
    6. At the invitation of parents or school district, other individuals who have knowledge or specific expertise regarding the child
    7. The student, when appropriate
  2. Eligibility
    1. The IEP team must determine if a student is eligible for an IEP by ascertaining if the child meets IDEA’s definition of a ‘child with a disability. This phrase is often misunderstood resulting in people believing that any child with a diagnosed disability is automatically eligible for an IEP. If the IEP team decides that a student meets the definition of a ‘child with a disability’, services and supports are written into the IEP which will provide the student with a free and appropriate public education.
    2. Students with TS who are determined to need an IEP fall under the IDEA definition or classification of ‘other health impairment.’ Prior to this, students were often incorrectly classified under the definition ‘emotional disturbance’.

Other health impairment means having limited strength, vitality, or alertness,        including a heightened alertness to environmental stimuli,

that results in limited alertness with respect to the educational environment, that–

  • Is due to chronic or acute health problems such

as asthma, attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, diabetes, epilepsy,

a heart condition, hemophilia, lead poisoning, leukemia, nephritis, rheumatic fever, sickle cell anemia, and Tourette syndrome; and

  • (i) Adversely affects a child’s educational performance. The following is a quote from the U.S. Department of Education regarding why, during the 2004 reauthorization of IDEA, Tourette syndrome was included in the definition of other health impairment:

….., we do believe that Tourette syndrome is commonly misunderstood to be a behavioral or emotional condition, rather than a neurological condition. Therefore, including Tourette syndrome in the definition of other health impairment may help correct the misperception of Tourette syndrome as a behavioral or conduct disorder and prevent the misdiagnosis of their needs.                                                                             Changes: We have added Tourette syndrome as an example of an acute or chronic health problem in §300.8(c)(9)(i).

Section 504 does not have strict guidelines but is a Federal law that must be adhered to.

  1. The 504 team is not specified by law but typically includes teachers, support personnel and parents. They determine if student meets the eligibility guidelines outlined in Section 504 and if they need supports in order to provide equal access to an education similar to a student without a disability.
  2. Eligibility
    1. For a student to be found eligible for a 504 Plan, it must be demonstrated that the student’s symptoms substantially limit a ‘major life activity’. The ADAA (Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act of 2008), highlighted that over the years, schools were using ‘significantly’ as the guide for eligibility instead of ‘substantially’ as was the original intent of the law when determining if a disability actually and truly limits a major life activity. The ADAA states that the effect of these changes is to make it easier for an individual seeking protection under the ADA to establish that he or she has a disability within the meaning of the ADA
    2. ‘‘Major life activities’, as defined in the Section 504 regulations at 34 C.F.R. 104.3(j)(2)(ii), include functions such as caring for one’s self, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, working, eating, sleeping, standing, lifting, bending, reading, concentrating, thinking, and communicating.

IEP                                                                                          504 Plan 

Special Education; Related Services                    Modifications, Accommodations

Legal Document                                                  Legal Document

Evaluations/Assessments important                   Evaluations/Assessments                                                                                                                   may be important

Partial Federal/state funding                              No federal funding

Guidelines under IDEA                                        No specific guidelines

Education law                                                      Civil Rights

IEP Team meeting                                               Team meeting

Mandated reviewed annually                             Typically reviewed annually

Meetings may be called as necessary                 Meetings may be called as needed

Protections regarding discipline                         Protections regarding discipline

K-12th grade                                                         College and employment Civil Rights

IEP includes 504 Protections                               May include Special Education& Related Services

Summary:  When requesting support, parents should determine if the student’s needs rise to the level of IEP services, which typically involves an additional person be involved in supporting the student. Requesting IEP’s, when a 504 Plan is sufficient, may reduce the possibilities of obtaining an IEP in the future if and when one is necessary. For example: