Sunday / July 21

The Purpose of IEP and Section 504 Team Meetings

Have you attended or been asked to attend IEP or Section 504 Team meetings?  If so, have you wondered why we have them, and what their purpose is?

As a school attorney, I believe that, if Team members know why they are participating in these meetings, it’ll be a good thing.  The meetings will go better!  If they don’t know, it may end up confusing and angering everyone—parents and colleagues.  Not good.

So, let’s explore the purpose of IEP or 504 meetings together.


We have IEP Team meetings to fulfill two important and independent purposes.

First, for the student—the meeting is designed to develop an IEP, the Individualized Education Program, to provide the student with a FAPE (free appropriate public education) in the LRE (least restrictive environment) for the time period at issue, usually a year.  Or, in case the Team determines that the student does not need an IEP, to consider and decide why that is.

For IEPs, the term “appropriate” in a FAPE means that the IEP is designed for the student to receive educational benefit from the services it provides. IEP goals need to be measurable and ambitious, reflecting the student’s circumstances. An IEP should help close the gaps between the student’s current performance and potential—not between the student and peers.  For an explanation, see the 2017 Supreme Court decision: Endrew F. v. Douglas County.

Second, for the parent/caregiver—the Team meeting is designed to provide them with the opportunity to participate meaningfully. Lots goes into this! The Team needs to consider the parent’s concerns and input. Team members should listen well and use language that everyone can understand—including, and maybe even especially, the parent. Thus, it may be smart to leave those acronyms outside the door, or to provide a list that explains the terms.

Remember the two purposes. Each is vital and has its own rights!

Note: IEP Team meetings have different names in different states; e.g., in Texas, they are called the ARD Committee—Admission, Review, and Dismissal; in some states, they may be called the “annual review.” Be sure to know the name in your state!


In contrast to the special education law (the IDEA—the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), Section 504 is an anti-discrimination law. This means that Section 504 is an opportunity law, designed to ensure that a student with a disability has the right to an equal opportunity as his or her classmates and peers.  Section 504 is part of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, the anti-discrimination law for programs that receive federal funding. Since schools receive federal funds, they are bound by Section 504’s requirements.

Unlike the special education law, Section 504 is not designed to provide the student with educational benefit. Instead, it’s designed for one purpose—to not discriminate against the student on the basis of disability.

The job of a 504 meeting is to carry out that purpose:  to develop a plan so the school district does not discriminate against a student with a disability. How? By providing that student with the same opportunity to access, participate, and learn as nondisabled peers have.

How much opportunity does the law require? The same as average peers without disabilities get. Section 504 does not consider a student’s potential or circumstances. A student is compared to average students in his school or region.

504 plans often include accommodations, adaptations, services, therapies, and, even on rare occasions, placements—whatever it takes to provide that opportunity.

A few more contrasts with the IDEA. Note: there are many others!

  • Section 504 is an “opportunity” law while the IDEA is a “benefit” or “progress” law.
  • Section 504 is regular education; the IDEA is special education.
  • In current practice, both laws provide a FAPE. The IDEA law includes the FAPE requirement; the Section 504 law does not, but it is included in Office for Civil Rights (OCR) policy.
  • The meanings of “FAPE” under these laws have similarities and differences, including:
    • The letters F, A, and E have the same meaning under both laws. “F” is a program that is free to the parent, “P” means the program is under public control, and “E” means that it’s for education, broadly defined.
    • The letter “A” has different meanings under these laws. Under the IDEA, the program is reasonably calculated (by the IEP Team) to help the child make progress and receive educational benefits. Under Section 504, the program is designed to provide the student the same opportunity as provided to average non-disabled peers.

Now go attend and enjoy your next meeting with more clarity and confidence!

As with IEP Team meetings, 504 meetings have different names in different states. They may be called team meetings, group meetings, committee meeting, and other names. Be sure to use the term in your state!

DISCLAIMER:  These blogs are intended to be used for general information only. They are not provided as legal or other professional advice or as a legal service. In the event that legal advice is required, services of an attorney should be sought.

Read more in my book, IEP and Section 504 Team Meetings… and the Law (available at Corwin Freedman, Miriam | Corwin and on Amazon IEP and Section 504 Team Meetings…and the Law: Freedman, Miriam Kurtzig: 9781071802199: Books).

Written by

A school attorney, Miriam Kurtzig Freedman is of counsel to the Boston law firm of Stoneman, Chandler & Miller LLP.  She provides clients and national audiences with lively and practical keynotes, training, and consultation—all in “plain English!” A former teacher, Miriam “gets” it—what school folks need to know and do.

Miriam has authored eight books and had contributed articles to The Wall Street Journal, Education WeekEducation Next, the Journal of Law and Education, the University of Chicago Law Review on line, among other publications. She also contributes to

Miriam co-founded the annual Special Education Day (December 2) to both celebrate the success of special education and to spur reform.  Among its reforms is SpedEx, the successful, voluntary, trust-building, child-centered dispute resolution model. A summary of her writing, speaking, and consulting is available at

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