PDF version of this sheet
Federal laws provide for services and accommodations for students with disabilities in the United States. Understanding the differences between 504 and IEP plans can help you navigate the public education system for your child.
Two federal laws guarantee a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) and provide services or accommodations to eligible students with disabilities in the United States:
Section 504 and IDEA are the laws that provide special education, other services, and appropriate accommodations for eligible children with disabilities in the United States. Individual states may also have laws governing these matters. When state laws and federal laws are different, schools must follow the federal laws, unless the state law provides the child with more rights or protection. These two federal laws also say that children with disabilities must be educated as much as possible with children who do not have disabilities.
But there are also differences between Section 504 and IDEA. Parents, health professionals, and teachers should know what each law provides so that they make the best choice for the child.
Which One is Right for My Child?
There is no one “right” choice for every child. Seeking services under Section 504 or IDEA will depend on what the child needs and the degree of impairment demonstrated in the educational environment.
For students who will be able to learn with simple accommodations or only minor changes to the child’s day, Section 504 may be a good choice. Receiving services under Section 504 is faster and more flexible and is a good way for eligible students to get accommodations.
For students who may need a wider or more intense range of services, IDEA may work better. IDEA also provides parents with more rights and responsibilities to actively participate in the educational decisions about their child. Children who do not qualify for IDEA may qualify for Section 504, depending on their degree of impairment. While the federal law is the same, the procedures for implementing Section 504 vary greatly from state to state, and even from one school district to another within the same state. It is important to know how your state and school district implement these federal laws.
Sample letter to request an educational evaluation of a child with ADHD
[INSERT NAME OF PRINCIPAL]
[INSERT FULL NAME OF CHILD’S SCHOOL]
[INSERT SCHOOL ADDRESS]
Dear [(DR., MR., MRS. OR MS.) INSERT PRINCIPAL’S LAST NAME]:
I am writing to request that my child, [INSERT CHILD’S FULL NAME AND DATE OF BIRTH], be evaluated for special education services and/or accommodations granted under Section 504 or the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). I am concerned that [INSERT CHILD’S NAME] is having difficulty and may need special help in order to learn.
For the last [NUMBER] years (his/her) classroom teachers have noted that (he/she) has difficulty completing assignments, is experiencing problems with excessive impulsivity and/or is unable to sit still and stay focused. Please note that [INSERT NAME AND CREDENTIALS OF HEALTH CARE PROFESSIONAL] has diagnosed my (son/daughter) as having Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). [INSERT NAME OF HEALTH CARE PROFESSIONAL] is concerned that [INSERT CHILD’S NAME]’s ADHD is resulting in decreased alertness in the classroom and may be significantly impacting (his/her) school performance, learning, and behavior.
I would like to meet with all those who will be doing the evaluation before my child is tested so that I may share information about [INSERT CHILD’S NAME] with them. I understand that the evaluation is provided at no cost to me. I also understand that I must provide written permission for these tests to be administered and I will be happy to do so once I have received all the appropriate forms and an explanation of the process. I will also expect a copy of the written report generated by each evaluator so that I may review them before the IEP or 504 planning meeting.
I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience so that we may begin preparations for the evaluation.
[INSERT YOUR NAME]
[INSERT YOUR ADDRESS]
[INSERT YOUR TELEPHONE NUMBER AND EMAIL ADDRESS]
Education Rights for Children with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: A Primer for Parents (in English and Spanish)
Protection and Advocacy Centers
Know Your Rights under Section 504 from the U.S. Department of Education for parents and guardians of students with ADHD