Section 504 of the Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1973
Section 504 is a federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of documented disability, history of a disability, or the appearance of having a disability. Any student who has been found eligible for special education services is also considered covered under Section 504. However, there are some students who may have a disability but are not eligible for special education services.
Just having a disability does not, by itself, make a student eligible under Section 504. The presence of the disability has to “substantially limit” the student’s participation in, or access to, what the law calls a “major life activity”. In the context of school, this is most often considered to be the activity of learning, but could also be others, such as the ability to access a class or activity.
When it looks like the student might not be able to participate in a “major life activity” such as learning like students without that disability, the school is required to make “reasonable accommodations”. The purpose of these accommodations is for the student to have access to the same degree as other students. Many times teachers make these accommodations in many different ways on an informal level because they recognize the needs of the student. If, for whatever reason, the student is still substantially limited in his/her learning or other major life activity at school, then a referral to the building’s Section 504 Coordinator should be considered.
To determine eligibility, each school has a designated evaluation team. If it appears that the impact of the student’s disability requires him/her to receive specially designed instruction eligibility for special education must be evaluated. If the impact of the disability represents primarily an issue of having to find or create accommodations to insure equal access then a 504 plan needs to be developed.
Any decision concerning Section 504 eligibility or accommodations may be appealed to the district-level Section 504 coordinator.
Although there are some similarities between special education and Section 504, they are based on two very different principles. Special education eligibility is limited to a defined set of disabilities and a need for specially designed instruction, meaning the curriculum or way of teaching is distinctly altered or altogether different from the general curriculum. The focus of Section 504 is about defining reasonable accommodations to ensure non-discrimination and providing equal access.
Section 504 Procedural Safeguards
You have the right to:
- Have your child take part in and receive benefits from public education programs without discrimination because of their disabling condition(s).
- Have the school district advise you of your rights under federal law.
- Have an evaluation that draws on information from a variety of sources.
- Have your child receive an appropriate public education. This includes the right to be educated with non-disabled students to the maximum extent appropriate.
- Have your child receive special education and related services in facilities which are comparable to those provided non-disabled students.
- Have your child receive special education and related services if they are found to be eligible under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or accommodations under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.
- Request mediation for dispute resolution.
- Have transportation provided to and from an alternative placement setting (If the setting is a program operated by the district.
- Have your child be given an equal opportunity to participate in nonacademic and extracurricular activities offered by the district.
- Examine all relevant records relating to decisions regarding your child’s identification, evaluation, and educational program placement.
- Obtain copies of educational records at a reasonable cost unless the fee would effectively deny you access to the records.
- A response from the school district to reasonable requests for explanations and interpretations of your child’s records.
- Request amendment of your child’s educational records if there is reasonable cause to believe that they are inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise in violation of the privacy rights of your child.
- File a grievance with the school district over an alleged violation of Section 504 regulations.
- Request an impartial due process hearing if there is disagreement with the school district’s proposed action.
- Be represented by counsel in the impartial hearing process.
- Appeal the impartial hearing officer’s decision.
- Ask for payment of reasonable attorney fees if you are successful on your claim.