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Expert Q&A

Can and should a school transition a student from a Special Education IEP to a 504 accommodation plan?

I teach in an Adult Ed setting. The nature of our program is self-paced and individualized, with one-on-one instruction from teachers in both our GED and High School Diploma programs. When an IEP student requests enrollment, we’ve presented the option of both a 504 Accommodations Plan and an IEP during the initial staffing meeting. At the meeting, we discuss and explain the advantages of both, and we have both a proposed IEP and a proposed 504 plan for the team to review at the meeting. If the parents, student and committee members agree that a 504 Plan is sufficient, then the student is signed out of special services and a 504 Plan is implemented in lieu of an IEP.

So, my question is, since our Adult Ed program is designed to be individualized in nature, is it appropriate to allow an IEP student to ‘try’ a 504 Accommodations Plan in lieu of an IEP if the IEP team determines that the student deserves a chance to do so? Or, is it inappropriate to present the option of a 504 Plan at an initial staffing when the student has had an IEP at a previous school?

Thank you,

Dear Gina:

Your question deals with whether a student who has previously been in special education and is now transitioning to an adult ed program operated by the school district for students under 21 that have not yet graduated may could/should be given the option of a Section 504 plan and be exited from special education if the 504 plan would meet their needs.

The decision to terminate special education services may be made at any time by the IEP team, including the parent, and for those students 18 or older, including the student. The threshold question operationally is whether the student still needs special education assistance.

Your question, though, recognizes that sometimes the line is blurry between needing special education and an IEP vs. only needing a Section 504 plan. In fact, a Section 504 plan also requires that the student receive a free appropriate public education, but contains fewer regulatory requirements for how the program operates.

I can see pros and cons to your desire to promote a shift to 504 eligibility, but you have not articulated clear reasons for why doing so would be advantageous for the student. If they meet criteria for IDEA eligibility and there is no advantage to shifting to 504 eligibility, I am unclear why you would do it.

I am also concerned that in some schools, this might be done as a way of sidestepping the very strong IDEA transition requirements and giving the child/young adult less services with less protections. Since Section 504 does not contain comparably strong transition requirements, my inclination would be to maintain IDEA eligibility.

On the other hand, in individual cases, if there is truly an open and full discussion of the options, the child and parent fully understand those options, and all agree that a shift to Section 504 eligibility is preferable, there is nothing legally improper as long as the correct procedures are followed.

I would also note, though, that you suggest that if the student needs to get back into special ed after being declassified, they can do so. While this is theoretically true, the process of making a student eligible again is time consuming and burdensome….and I would be concerned that in some schools it is much easier to get out of special ed then to get back in if it is needed at that time.

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