504 and Individualized Education Plans: An overview

Lupus Foundation of America

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The health complications and treatment needs associated with lupus can lead to frequent absences from school and extracurricular events. Teachers and others who supervise your child’s activities need to be aware that your child’s absences could interfere with schoolwork deadlines and other responsibilities.

There are academic accommodations available. The following are explanations of how the 504 plan and Individualized Education Plan or Program (IEP) work.

About the 504 plan

A 504 plan lays out accommodations and modifications for a student with a medical condition or physical disability to have the opportunity to perform at the same level as his or her peers. The U.S. Department of Education oversees and enforces 504 plans through its Office for Civil Rights. Examples of accommodations are: an extra set of textbooks to keep at home, a tutor, or a tape recorder for taking class notes. 504 plans are similar in all schools although they are not exactly the same for each student. The child’s diagnosis, as submitted by the treating physician, can greatly determine the details of the plan. 

DID YOU KNOW: Accommodations under the 504 plan are also available for students attending public colleges and universities.

While the 504 plan can provide help prevent a child from falling behind academically due to physical challenges, it cannot address gaps in learning caused by the health disorder itself such as slower problem-solving skills or trouble concentrating. Also, because 504-mandated services are not federally funded, the money comes from the school’s budget, and some will have difficulty providing the required services. That’s when the IEP comes into play.

About the IEP

The Individualized Education Plan or Program (IEP) is part of the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The Department of Education oversees IEPs through its Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services. IEPs are used for students who have mental, emotional, physical or learning disabilities but also for students whose health impairment is compromising their academic achievement. This is what distinguishes the IEP from the 504 plan.

The first step is to determine whether the child needs an IEP. School staff must evaluate the child’s educational disabilities to determine if he or she qualifies for assistance. If the child is found to be doing fine academically and not falling behind in achievement, then there is no disability for which an IEP is needed.

However, if the evaluation indicates that accommodations would be helpful, parents and school personnel (and the child, if appropriate) meet to discuss the child’s needs. Only then can an IEP be written. Although the law does not specify what the IEP should look like, each IEP should be as clear and useful as possible. It must be reviewed at least once a year.

The IEP should include:
  1. The academic problem
  2. A service or intervention to address the academic problem
  3. Measurable goals that the interventions or services are meant to reach; for example, a child with lupus experiencing cognitive dysfunction might need extra time for taking tests.

In addition to parents, teachers, school administrators, related services personnel, and the child (when appropriate), the IEP team may include a psychologist, a physical therapist, and others, depending on the child’s specific needs. The IEP is intended to be a collaborative document, and everyone at the meeting contributes to its creation. The school staff can reject what parents want in the document, but parents, as well as their own advocates for the child, can dispute aspects of the IEP if they feel it should have goals or interventions included or omitted.


For IEP information, visit the U.S. Department of Education website, call 800-USA-LEARN (800-872-5327) or write to U.S. Department of Education at 400 Maryland Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20202. Spanish-language information is available.

For 504 plan information, contact the Office for Civil Rights at 800-421-3481; TTY: 1-877-521-2172; or email

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