Navigating Special Education: The Differences Between the IDEIA and Section 504

  • August 2, 2018
By: Sherry Wilds, Staff Attorney
 
Below is a chart that will help show the differences between Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA or IDEA). Under Section 504, schools, as recipients of federal funds, cannot discriminate against students with disabilities. Under IDEIA, schools must provide students with disabilities who meet eligibility criteria a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment. This may be achieved through specialized instruction and/or consultation.
 
Students who qualify under IDEIA also will be covered under Section 504. However, some students with disabilities may not need specialized services but simply may simply require modification or accommodations in the classroom. These students may qualify under Section 504 but not under IDEIA.
 
  IDEIA Section 504
Major Differences Betwen the IDEIA and Section 504
Who is Protected Lists 13 categories of qualifying conditions. Has a much broader scope. A student is eligible as long as he/she meets the definition of a qualified person with a disability; i.e, has or has had a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits a major life activity, or is regarded as having a disability by others.
Duty to Provide a Free Appropriate Public Education Both require the provision of a free appropriate public education to students covered under them including individually designed instruction. Both require the provision of a free appropriate public education to students covered under them including individually designed instruction.
  Requires the district to provide IEPs. "Appropriate education" means a program designed to provide "educational benefit." "Appropriate" means an education comparable to the education provided to students without disabilites. 
Special Education vs. Regular Education A student is only eligible to receive IDEIA services if the multidisciplinary team determines that the student has one of the 13 qualifying conditions and needs special education.  A student is eligible as long as he/she meets the definition of a qualified person with a disability; i.e., has or has had a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits a major life activity, or is regarded as disabled by others. The student is not required to need special education in order to be protected. 
Funding If a student is eligible under IDEIA, the district receives additional funding.  Additional funds are not provided. 
Accessibility This is not specifically mentioned, although if modifications must be made to provide a free appropriate education to a student, IDEIA requires it.  There are detailed regulations regarding building and program accessibility. 
Procedural Safeguards Both require notice to the parent or guardian with respect to identification, evaluation, and placement. Both require notice to the parent or guardian with respect to identification, evaluation, and placement.
 

Requires written notice. 

Notice provisions are much more comprehensive.  Minimum requirements for notice are specifically spelled out.

Does not require written notice but a district would be wise to do so. 
  Written notice is required prior to any change in placement.  Notice is required only before a "significant change in placement."
Evaluation The regulations are very similar. The regulations are very similar.
  Consent is required before an initial evaluation is conducted.  Only notice, not consent, is required. 
  Reevaluations must be conducted at least every 3 years. Requires periodic reevaluations.
  Reevaluation is not required before a significant change in placement.  Reevaluation is required before a significant change in placement. 
  IDEIA provides for independent evaluations. This is not required. 
Grievance Procedure IDEIA does not require a grievance procedure nor a compliance officer. Districts with more than 15 employees must designate an employee to be responsible for assuring district compliance with Section 504 and provide a grievance procedure for parents, students, and employees.
Due Process Hearing Both require districts to provide impartial hearings for parents or guardians who disagree with the identifica-tion, evaluation, or placement of a student with disabilities. (See grievance procedure requirement for each law for specific information.) The rules are virtually identical. Both require districts to provide impartial hearings for parents or guardians who disagree with the identifica-tion, evaluation, or placement of a student with disabilities. (See grievance procedure requirement for each law for specific information.) The rules are virtually identical.
Exhaustion The parent or guardian must pursue the administrative hearing before seeking relief in the courts. No exhaustion requirement. 
Enforcement

Not enforced by the Office of Civil Rights.

Compliance is monitored by the Tennessee Department of Education.

Enforced by the Office of Civil Rights. 
Employment Employment of persons with disabilites is not regulated.  Employment of persons with disabilites is regulated. 

 

Disability Rights Tennessee (DRT) is a nonprofit legal services organization that provides FREE services to protect the rights of Tennesseans with disabilities.

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