Introduction to Section 504

With passage of the rehabilitation Act of 1973, Congress required that federal fund recipients make their programs and activities accessible to all individuals with disabilities.

"No qualified individual with disabilities, shall, solely by reason of her or his disability be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."

Section 504 of the Act protects persons from discrimination based upon their disability status.  A person is disabled under the definition of Section 504 if he or she:

 

  1. has a mental of physical impairment which substantially limits one or more of such person's major life activities;
  2. has a prior record of diagnosed impairments*; or
  3. is regarded as having a diagnosable impairment*

When a condition limits a major life activity, the individual qualifies under Section 504.

"Major life activities include functions such as caring for one's self, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working.  When a condition does not substantially limit a major life activity, the individual does not qualify under Section 504."

*According to the Colorado Department of Education (April 2002):

A person can also be protected (have a 504 Plan) if they have a record of having an impairment or are regarded as having an impairment.  Generally, however, persons who are protected as having a disability because they have a prior record of diagnosed impairment, or are regarded as having a diagnosable impairment are not entitled to accommodations.  Students, however, who are perceived as having a diagnosable disability or has a prior record of having a diagnosed disability are entitled to the 504 protections in the disability are entitled to 504 protections in the disciplinary process (see table for illustrated interpretation).

Student has a diagnosed physical or mental impairment (e.g. Cystic Fibrosis) Student had a diagnosed impairment, but no longer has one (has a prior record of impairment, e.g. broken limbs). Student is regarded s having a diagnosable impairment (e.g. extreme inattention, poor impulse control, etc. may indicate ADD or ADHD even though it is not yet officially diagnosed).
504 accommodations are warranted 504 accommodations are not warranted 504 accommodations are not warranted
Disciplinary protections may be warranted Disciplinary protections may be warranted Disciplinary protections may be warranted

One of the most, if not the most, troublesome aspects of Section 504 is the similarity between its requirements and those of the IDEA, and the use of identical language in both acts.

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 includes Section 504.  The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act was passed in 1975 as the Education of the Handicapped Act.  Both require a free appropriate public education, eligibility for services, procedural safeguards, evaluations and special education services.  However, in one situation of eligibility services and the provision of those services is through special education, IDEA, and in the other situation those services are provided by regular education, Section 504.  The School District is attempting to be proactive in its attempts to meet the requirements of Section 504 through the development of this material and the forms which accompany it.  The intent of developing the forms is to provide for all schools, and therefore, the district, a consistent application of process and procedures in order to assure compliance with 504.

The provision of a free appropriate public education under Section 504 is the provision of regular or special education and related aids and services which include:

 

  1. Educational services designed to meet each disabled student's individual educational needs as adequately as the needs of non-disabled students are met;
  2. The education of students with disabilities with non-disabled students to the maximum extent appropriate to the needs of students with disabilities;
  3. Non-discriminatory evaluation and placement procedures to guard against misclassification or misplacements of students;
  4. Accessible, usable and open facilities, programs and activities for disabled students in the most appropriate integrated setting; and
  5. Due process procedures for parents and guardians to review evaluation and placement decisions made with respect to their child.

Section 504 services by regular education could be in the form of accommodations and/or modifications that would range form seating adjustments to tape recording, to daily/weekly progress reports, to oral and visual instructions for assignments, to repetition of instruction, to the utilization of supplementary materials.  It could also include more extensive services such as transportation or the modification of buildings.

Students needing services under Section 504 are identified as students who do not qualify for special education services under IDEA (have not met eligibility criteria), but who do need some accommodation in order to have access to the same educational opportunity as non-disabled students.  However, it may be possible that students who do meet the criteria for services under IDEA may also receive the benefits of 504.

The multidisciplinary team responsible for dealing with 504 referrals at the schools must make a determination of the need for services on an individual basis.

Clues as to when an evaluation for a disability might be considered are:

  1. When a student who has been referred for special education evaluation, but is determined to be ineligible;
  2. When retention is being considered;
  3. When a student shows a pattern of not benefitting from the instruction being provided;
  4. When a student returns to school following a serious illness or injury;
  5. When a student exhibits a chronic health condition;
  6. When a student is "at risk" or shows the potential of dropping out of school;
  7. When a student may be involved in substance abuse;
  8. When disability of any kind is known or suspected;

As a civil rights law, Section 504 is broader and more encompassing than IDEA, and has no categorical listing of conditions which a student must demonstrate in order to qualify to receive services.  Conditions such as alcohol addiction, heart disease, allergies and diabetes may qualify a student for services 504 whereas they would not typically be covered under the IDEA.  In addition, it is important to know that an eligible student's placement cannot be changed as a result of disciplinary action unless the 504 committee first conducts a manifestation determination staffing to assess whether or not the student's disability was not related to his/her behavior or an inappropriate placement.

Student's and parent's rights under 504 are protected under the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) just as they are under the IDEA.