Section 504: Supporting Students With Disabilities
Section 504 of the Federal Vocational and Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a law that protects the rights of individual with disabilities in programs and activities that receive federal funding. Students may qualify for services under Section 504 but may not necessarily qualify for services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or IDEA. Section 504 is a civil rights law that protects the rights of individuals with disabilities.
Section 504 Information
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act
Section 504 guarantees that people with disabilities may not be discriminated against because of their disability. While IDEA protects children in the area of education, Section 504 protects those with disabilities for life and encompasses the right to vote, accessibility, and employment, in addition to education. For example, all qualified elementary and secondary public school students who meet the definition of an individual with a disability under Section 504 are entitled to receive regular or special education and related aids and services that are designed to meet their individual educational needs as adequately as the needs of students without disabilities are met. Section 504 also requires, among other things, that a student with a disability receive an equal opportunity to participate in athletics and extracurricular activities and to be free from bullying and harassment based on disability.
Key features of FAPE under Section 504 include:
• Evaluation and placement procedures that guard against misclassification or inappropriate placement of students;
• Periodic reevaluation of students who have been provided special education or related services and prior to a significant change in placement;
• Provision of regular or special education and related aids and services that are designed so that the individual educational needs of students with disabilities are met as adequately as the needs of non-disabled students are met;
• Education of students with disabilities with non-disabled students—to the maximum extent that this arrangement is appropriate for the needs of students with disabilities;
• A system of procedural safeguards (that is designed to inform parents of a school district’s actions or decisions and to provide parents with a process for challenging those actions or decisions) that include notice; an opportunity for parents to review their child’s records; an impartial due process hearing (with an opportunity for participation by the student’s parents or guardians and representation by counsel); and a review procedure.
Physical or mental impairments
Section 504 defines a physical or mental impairment 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; genito-urinary; hemic and lymphatic; skin; and
Section 504 definition of physical and mental impairment also includes any mental or psychological disorder. The definition does not include all specific diseases and conditions that may be physical or mental impairments because of the difficulty of ensuring the completeness of such a list.
Under Section 504, an individual with a disability (also referred to as a student with a disability in the elementary and secondary education context) is defined as a person who: (1) has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity; (2) has a record of such an impairment; or (3) is regarded as having such an impairment.
The determination of whether a student has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity (and therefore has a disability) must be made on a case by case basis. In addition, when determining if someone meets the definition of a disability, the definition must be understood to provide broad coverage of individuals.
Major life activities
To summarize, major life activities include certain acts a person does (such as hearing, speaking, lifting) and a person’s bodily functions (such as lung disease that affects a person’s respiratory system, or a traumatic brain injury that affects the function of the brain).
The list of major life activities under Section 504 includes, but is not limited to, the activities listed below.
- caring for oneself
- performing manual tasks
Major bodily functions are also major life activities under the law, and these major bodily functions include functions of the bowel, bladder, and brain; normal cell growth; and the immune, endocrine (for example, thyroid, pituitary, and pancreas), respiratory, reproductive, circulatory, digestive, and neurological systems.
These lists, however, do not provide every possible major life activity or bodily function; therefore, if an activity or bodily function is not listed in the Amendments Act, it might still be considered a major life activity under Section 504.
For example, if a school provides a form with a list of major life activities to consider during an evaluation process, a student may still have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity even if the activity is not listed on the school’s form. School staff should note, in particular, that a student may have a disability and be eligible for Section 504 services even if his or her disability does not limit the major life activity of learning. Therefore, rather than considering only how an impairment affects a student’s ability to learn, school staff must also consider how the impairment affects any major life activity of the student and, if necessary, assess what is needed to ensure that students have an equal opportunity to participate in the school’s programs.
When determining if a person has a disability, a school cannot consider the ameliorative effects of mitigating measures when determining how the impairment impacts the major life activities under consideration.
The determination of substantial limitation must be made on a case-by-case basis with respect to each individual student.21 Section 504 requires that, for elementary and secondary school students, a group of knowledgeable persons draw upon information from a variety of sources in making this determination.
If an impairment only occurs periodically (that is, it is episodic) or is in remission, it is a disability if, when in an active phase, it would substantially limit a major life activity.
The Superintendent or designee shall notify the parents/guardians of students with disabilities of all actions and decisions by the District regarding the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of their children. He/she also shall notify the parents/guardians of all the procedural safeguards available to them if they disagree with the District's action or decision, including an opportunity to examine all relevant records and an impartial hearing in which they shall have the right to participate. (34 CFR 104.36) If a parent/guardian disagrees with any District action or decision regarding the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of his/her child under Section 504, he/she may request a Section 504 due process hearing within 30 days of that action or decision.
Prior to requesting a Section 504 due process hearing, the parent/guardian may, at his/her discretion, but within 30 days of the District's action or decision, request an administrative review of the action or decision. The Coordinator shall designate an appropriate administrator to meet with the parent/guardian to attempt to resolve the issue and the administrative review shall be held within 14 days of receiving the parent/guardian's request.
If the parent/guardian is not satisfied with the resolution of the issue, he/she may request a Section 504 due process hearing.
Section 504 due process hearing shall be conducted in accordance with the following procedures:
1. The parent/guardian shall submit a written request to the Coordinator within 30 days of receiving the District's decision or, if an administrative review is held, within 14 days of the completion of the review. The request for the due process hearing shall include:
a. The specific nature of the decision with which he/she disagrees
b. The specific relief he/she seeks
c. Any other information he/she believes is pertinent to resolving the disagreement
2. Within 30 days of receiving the parent/guardian's request, the Superintendent or designee and 504 Coordinator shall select an impartial hearing officer. This 30-day deadline may be extended for good cause or by mutual agreement of the parties.
3. Within 45 days of the selection of the hearing officer, the Section 504 due process hearing shall be conducted and a written decision mailed to all parties. This 45-day deadline may be extended for good cause or by mutual agreement of the parties.
4. The parties to the hearing shall be afforded the right to:
a. Be accompanied and advised by counsel and by individuals with special knowledge or training related to the problems of students with disabilities under Section 504
b. Present written and oral evidence
c. Question and cross-examine witnesses
d. Receive written findings by the hearing officer stating the decision and explaining the reasons for the decision
If desired, either party may seek a review of the hearing officer's decision by a federal court of competent jurisdiction.
If you feel that your student will qualify for a 504 Plan, please contact your school site for the name of your School's 504 Coordinator.