Understanding 504 Plans and IEPs: A Guide to Special Education Plans in South Carolina

Navigating the world of special education can be challenging for parents and teachers, especially when it comes to understanding the differences and similarities between 504 Plans and Individualized Education Programs (IEPs).

Both provide support for students with disabilities, but the processes and requirements for each can vary significantly.

Let’s look at the key distinctions and commonalities between 504 Plans and IEPs, specifically in the context of South Carolina and federal law.

We’ll start with an overview of each.

504 Plans

Derived from Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, this civil rights law prohibits discrimination based on disability in programs and activities receiving federal funding.[1] This includes public schools and institutions of higher education. A 504 Plan specifies accommodations and modifications a student with a disability needs to be educated on an equal basis with non-disabled peers.[2]


An IEP, on the other hand, is a legally binding document created under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This federal law mandates a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) for children with disabilities.[3] IEPs are tailored to meet the unique needs of the child. They contain specific goals, services, and accommodations that the child will receive.

IEP and 504 Plan Eligibility Requirements and Evaluations

One of the main differences between 504 Plans and IEPs is in eligibility requirements for each. While both plans are intended for students with disabilities, the criteria for each type of plan vary.

To qualify for a 504 Plan, a student must have a disability that substantially limits one or more major life activities. This includes learning, reading, writing, or concentrating.[4] It covers physical and mental impairments. In South Carolina, a team of knowledgeable individuals, including the student’s parents, teachers, and school administrators, determine whether a student is eligible for a 504 Plan.[5]

In contrast, to be eligible for an IEP, a student must have one of the 13 disabilities listed under IDEA and require specialized instruction.[6]

These disabilities include autism, deaf-blindness, emotional disturbance, hearing impairment, intellectual disability, multiple disabilities, orthopedic impairment, other health impairment, specific learning disability, speech or language impairment, traumatic brain injury, visual impairment, and developmental delay (for children aged 3-9).[7]

In South Carolina, a multidisciplinary team, including the student’s parents, teachers, and other relevant professionals, conducts an evaluation to determine the child’s eligibility for special education services under IDEA.[8]

While both 504 Plans and IEPs involve a collaborative process to develop and implement, there are key differences in how these plans are created and carried out.

Developing and implementing a 504 or IEP Plan

In South Carolina, a team that includes the parents reviews the student’s evaluation data, considers the student’s unique needs, and determines appropriate accommodations and modifications in developing a 504 Plan. Once the plan is developed, teachers and other school personnel implement it. The 504 Plan must be reviewed periodically to ensure that the accommodations and modifications are still appropriate.[9]

IEP development, on the other hand, is more formal. In South Carolina, an IEP team, which includes the student’s parents, general education teacher, special education teacher, school administrator, and other relevant professionals, convenes to create the IEP.[10] The IEP team reviews evaluation data, discusses the child’s unique needs, and creates specific goals and objectives for academic, social, and functional development.

The IEP also outlines the special education services, related services, accommodations, and modifications the student will receive.

Once the IEP is developed, the student’s teachers and other school personnel implement it. The team is required to meet at least yearly to review student progress and update the IEP as necessary.[11] Additionally, progress toward IEP goals must be measured and reported to the parents at least as often as the progress of non-disabled students is reported.[12]

Procedural Safeguards and Parental Rights

Both 504 Plans and IEPs come with certain procedural safeguards and parental rights, although there are some differences in the specific protections provided under each plan.

Under Section 504, parents have the right to participate in the evaluation and placement process, receive written notice before any significant changes in their child’s placement, and access their child’s educational records.[13] Parents also have the right to file a complaint with the school district or the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) if they believe their child has been discriminated against based on the disability.[14] Additionally, parents can request a hearing to resolve disputes related to the 504 Plan.[15]

IDEA provides more extensive procedural safeguards and parental rights. In addition to the rights in Section 504, parents have the right to participate in IEP meetings, be informed of their child’s progress, and request an independent educational evaluation (IEE) at public expense if they disagree with the school’s evaluation.[16] Parents can also file a complaint with the South Carolina Department of Education, request mediation, or request a hearing to resolve disputes related to their child’s special education services.[17]


By gaining a deeper understanding of the similarities and differences between 504 Plans and IEPs, as well as their respective eligibility requirements, plan development processes, and procedural safeguards, stakeholders in the education of students with disabilities can better support their academic success.

If you have concerns or questions about 504 Plans or IEPs in South Carolina, or if you need legal guidance in navigating the world of special education, please do not hesitate to reach out to our law firm. Our team of experienced attorneys is well-versed in both state and federal special education laws and is committed to helping families, educators, and other professionals understand their rights and responsibilities in this complex area of the law.

Information or interaction on this page should not be construed as establishing a client-attorney relationship or as legal advice. For advice about your specific situation, please consult one of our attorneys.

[1] 29 U.S.C. § 794 (1973).

[2] 34 C.F.R. § 104.33 (2020).

[3] 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400-1482 (2004).

[4] 34 C.F.R. § 104.3(j) (2020).

[5] S.C. Code Ann. Regs. 43-243.1 (2012).

[6] 20 U.S.C. § 1401(3)(A) (2004).

[7] 34 C.F.R. § 300.8 (2020).

[8] S.C. Code Ann. Regs. 43-243.1 (2012).

[9] 34 C.F.R. § 104.35 (2020).

[10] S.C. Code Ann. Regs. 43-243.1 (2012).

[11] 20 U.S.C. § 1414(d)(4)(A)(i) (2004).

[12] 20 U.S.C. § 1414(d)(1)(A)(i)(III) (2004).

[13] 34 C.F.R. § 104.36 (2020).

[14] 34 C.F.R. § 104.61 (2020).

[15] 34 C.F.R. § 104.36 (2020).

[16] 20 U.S.C. § 1415(b)(1) (2004).

[17] S.C. Code Ann. Regs. 43-243.1 (2012).