Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a federal law that protects qualified individuals from discrimination based on their disability. The law forbids school districts and other organizations that receive federal funds from excluding or denying individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to participate in and receive the benefits of the organization’s programs and services. Section 504 requires public school districts to provide a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) to students with disabilities.
Section 504 requires that students with disabilities receive access and opportunities to benefit from educational programs and services comparable to those provided to non-disabled students. School districts may not offer separate programs or services to students with disabilities, unless such programs are necessary to provide FAPE. It is illegal for schools to provide unequal or less effective programs or services to students with disabilities.
To be eligible for Section 504 services, a student must have a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities
Physical or Mental Impairment
An impairment is defined as “Any physiological disorder or condition, cosmetic disfigurement or anatomical loss affecting one or more of the following body systems: neurological, musculoskeletal, special sense organs, respiratory, including speech organs, cardiovascular, reproductive, digestive, genitourinary, hemic and lymphatic, skin and endocrine or any mental or psychological disorder such as mental retardation, organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness and specific learning disabilities.”
A major life activity includes functions such as caring for one’s self, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning and working. (ADAA 2008) This non-exhaustive list also includes eating, sleeping, lifting, standing, bending, reading, concentrating, thinking, and communicating.
An impairment is considered a disability under Rehabilitation Act only if it substantially limits such an activity. This is a relative threshold that is based on the extent to which an individual’s activities are restricted in terms of the conditions, manner or duration under which they can be performed as compared to most people. In a school setting, a student’s limitation is assessed according to how their ability or performance compares to that of an average student and/or district standards.
The decision of whether an impairment “substantially limits” a major life activity for a student must be made on an individual basis. Committee members will use a variety of data sources, such as achievement indicators, functional assessments, aptitude tests, physical condition, adaptive behaviors and teacher recommendations to assess whether determine whether a student has a “substantial limitation”.
Committee members may use the following scale to characterize the extent of the student’s impairment:
Student appears to be experiencing some challenges or behaviors associated with their diagnosed condition, but these do not create a limitation for the student
Student is experiencing some challenges or behaviors associated with their condition; parents and teachers are providing support as needed; the level of support provided is comparable to many grade level peers.
Student is experiencing several challenges or behaviors associated with their condition; parents and teachers are providing support on a regular basis, more than which is provided to many peers.
Student is experiencing numerous challenges and behaviors associated with their condition; parents and teachers are providing consistent support on a daily basis; support provided is critical to the students academic opportunity.
Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)
Public school districts are required to provide students with disabilities appropriate educational services that are designed to meet their needs to the same extent as their non-disabled peers. Schools must make reasonable accommodations to avoid discrimination, unless doing so would fundamentally alter the nature of the services or programming being provided. Schools are not required to alter the curriculum or reduce expectations for students eligible under Section 504, but they must provide accommodations that compensate for students’ disabilities and allow them an equal opportunity to achieve at the same level as their peers.
Accommodations can be made with respect to presentation of content, student responses, instructional setting and timing, or scheduling. Students eligible for Section 504 services may benefit from one of more of the following types of interventions:
Extending or adjusting time; allowing frequent breaks, varying activity often, omitting assignments that require timed situations
Leaving class for academic assistance; preferential seating; altering physical room arrangement
Differentiating instructional approach (visual, auditory, tactile, multi), individualizing/ small group instruction, taping lectures for replay, demonstrating/modeling, using manipulatives/hands-on activities, pre-teaching vocabulary, utilizing advance organizers; providing visual cues
Materials and Equipment/Assistive Technology
Recording texts, highlighting material, supplementing materials/laminating materials, note taking assistance/copies from others; using calculator, computer, word processor
Giving directions in small, distinct steps; allowing copying from paper/book; using written back-up for oral directions, adjusting length of assignment, changing format of assignment (matching, multiple choice, fill-in-blank, etc.)
(John’s Hopkins School of Education)
Although most modifications fundamentally alter the nature of the instructional programs, some modifications may be appropriate for students entitled to Section 504 services. These may include testing adaptations and/or grading modifications.
Section 504 is a civil rights law that protects individuals with a disability from discrimination for reasons related to their disability and ensures that all students have equal access to their education. Section 504 defines a person with disabilities if he/she:
- has a physical or mental impairment that limits one or more of the person’s major life activities (walking, speaking, working, eating, standing, lifting, bending, sleeping, seeing, breathing, caring for oneself, reading, concentrating, hearing, learning, performing manual tasks, thinking, communicating);
- has a record of such an impairment; or
- is regarded as having such impairment.
When a condition significantly limits a major life activity, an accommodation plan must be developed for that student. A team determines services under Section 504.
The requirements to qualify for a 504 Plan are somewhat less restrictive than special education criteria. A 504 Plan is most often utilized for students who are diagnosed with some form of physical, mental health, or medical condition (such as diabetes, migraine headaches, attention deficit disorder), but otherwise do not meet eligibility requirements for special education services. A 504 Plan is a written plan that provides for accommodations for the student, but not for specially designed instruction.
For more information regarding Section 504, contact your building principal.
Note: Should a grievance arise regarding Section 504, the procedures at this link will be followed: Section 504 Grievance Procedure
504 Plan Requirements
Section 504 requires a written accommodation plan describing placement and services being provided. These plans should be updated annually to ensure students are receiving the most effective accommodations for their specific circumstances.
504 Plans do not generally include “specially designed instruction”, but focus primarily on reasonable accommodations (and modifications) that ensure opportunities for students to access and benefit from the regular education program. Plans may also include “auxiliary aids and services,” such as occupational therapy, physical therapy, counseling, and others.
In developing 504 plans, decisions must be based on information drawn from a variety of sources and all information must be documented.
504 Plan Components
504 Plans should:
- List the specific accommodations, modifications and auxiliary supports or services that will be provided and who will provide them
- Identify the person(s) responsible for ensuring the plan is implemented
- Be distributed to all of the child’s teachers and support staff serving the child
- Be reviewed periodically (i.e. at least annually)
Section 504 presumes that entitled students be educated alongside their non-disabled peers.
Parent Due Process Rights
Under Section 504, parents have a right to challenge district decisions regarding the identification, evaluation and educational placement of their child. Prior to taking any action regarding the identification, evaluation, or placement, districts must notify the student’s parents and provide them an opportunity to challenge the action/decision if they disagree. The parent’s due process rights include:
- Prior notice of any action
- A right to inspect records
- An impartial hearing with a right to counsel
- A review procedure
School districts must obtain parent consent before initiating an evaluation for 504 services as well as before placing a child on a 504 Plan. If a parent refuses consent to either initial evaluation or placement, the district may, but is not required to, initiate a Section 504 Due Process hearing to override the refusal of consent.
A district must notify parents, but need not obtain consent, before reevaluating a student or significantly changing their placement.
Inspection of Records
Parents have a right to information regarding the district’s identification, evaluation, refusal to provide an evaluation, and educational placement. They also have a right to information pertaining to the denial of 504 services and any significant change in the services provided to their child. Such information must be provided in a timely manner so parents have ample opportunity to examine and consider relevant records.
Parents have the right to an impartial hearing, including participation by the parents and their counsel, concerning the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of their child. They may appeal the final decision of an impartial hearing officer to a court of competent jurisdiction.
AEA Mediation (Resolution Facilitation)
Parents can resolve disputes concerning Section 504 identification, evaluation or placement without resorting to a formal hearing or civil suit. Heartland AEA 11 provides trained mediators to help parents and districts reconcile their differences in an informal setting. Mediators from other AEAs are also available if impartiality is a concern. Parents are not required to use this process, but many prefer its informal voluntary nature. For more information, go to AEA Mediation Resolution Facilitation
Office for Civil Rights
The Office for Civil Rights is the federal entity with primary responsibility for ensuring compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. More information including links to Section 504, OCR guidance, and how to file a complaint at the federal level is available by first going to Office of Civil Rights and clicking on “Office Contacts.”
Section 504 Informational Booklet
Iowa Department of Education
Westwood Community School District
1000 Rebel Way
Sloan, IA 51055
NWAEA Section 504 Consultant
1520 Morningside ave., Sioux City Iowa 51106-1716
Iowa Department of Eduction
Fred E. Kinne
Section 504 Coordinator
Office for Civil Rights
Office for Civil Rights Region VII
U.S. Department of Education
Citigroup Center 500 W. Madison Street – Suite 1475
Chicago, IL 60661-7204