What is Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973?
Section 504 is the part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, that applies to persons with disabilities. It is a civil rights act that states that no otherwise qualified individual with a disability can be excluded from or denied benefits of any program receiving federal financial assistance.
Section 504 is a general education responsibility.
Unlike the Individual with Disabilities Education Act, 2004, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 1973 provides no funding for special programs or services.
How Does Section 504 Define "Disability?"
A person who qualifies for a 504 plan has a mental or physical impairment which substantially limits one or more of a person's major life activities. For an impairment to be substantially limiting it must impede student access to a "large or considerable degree." Common examples include such things as communicable diseases (HIV, TB), medical conditions (Attention Deficit Disorder, asthma, allergies, diabetes, heart disease, seizure disorders, traumatic brain injury, etc.), temporary medical conditions due to illness or accident, and psychological disorders.
What is a Major Life Activity?
This includes functions such as caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working. At school "learning" is frequently identified as the area of difficulty.
How do we know if a Student is Eligible for a 504 Plan?
If school staff have reason to believe that because of a disability as defined under section 504, a student needs special accommodations or services in the regular classroom in order to participate in the school program, then staff must evaluate the student. This is not necessarily the same as an evaluation for Special Education. Staff may use existing information such as grades, attendance reports, cumulative folder information, observation, and formal or informal test information. Information about current classroom functioning is critical. Parents may provide information from private doctors, therapist, etc.
The student must have an identifiable disability of some sort to qualify for a Section 504 plan. In addition, please be aware that choosing to ignore or not identify a student who needs a 504 plan does not relieve school staff of responsibility to provide access and can result in district and personal legal issues.
What Does Making Accommodations Mean?
Accommodations are adjustments made by the classroom teachers and other school staff to help students benefit from their educational program to the same degree that non-disabled students benefit. It is important that the plan specify accommodations that are necessary at this point in time to place the student at an equal starting level with the non-disabled student. Review plans yearly to evaluate their appropriateness.
Original concerns regarding issues of "access" for persons with disabilities centered around physical access - ramps, curb cuts, elevators, rest rooms, etc. Within the last several years the Office of Civil Rights has become active in broadening the definition of "access" to include the implementation of special accommodations in the classroom in order to allow a disabled student to benefit from his or her education.
It is not sufficient for parent and/or physician alone to determine that a disability substantially limits a child's learning. The school must conduct its own evaluation to determine if this is the case. Our referral process is as follows:
- Written request from the parent to the school site counselor or administrator
- Student Success Team Meeting
- 504 evaluation conducted
- 504 Case Manager assigned
- 504 accommodation plan disseminated
- Periodic review/revisions or termination of plan