Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (amended in 2008) is a federal law administered by the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and is designed to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities in programs that receive federal financial assistance from the U.S. Department of Education, such as our public schools. OCR can conduct compliance reviews and provide technical assistance to school districts, parents or advocates when requested.
Section 504 regulations ensure that a student with a disability has equal access to an education. It requires that school districts provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to qualified students who have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Given an equal opportunity, 504 Students with disabilities can receive appropriate accommodations, modifications and services designed to meet their individual educational needs to the same extent as the needs of students without disabilities are met.
Determining whether a student is qualified as a disabled student under Section 504 begins with the evaluation process. School districts must establish standards and procedures for initial evaluations and required periodic re-evaluations of Section 504 students with a disability. Periodic re-evaluations may be conducted like the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) regulations are for special education, which require re-evaluation at three-year intervals or more frequently if conditions warrant (like a significant change of placement), or by request.
A Section 504 evaluation team will determine if the student has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. School districts must pull from a variety of sources for the evaluation process, obtaining information and documenting all significant factors related to the student’s learning process. These sources and factors may include academic test results, teacher feedback, physical conditions, adaptive behavior, and their social and cultural background.
The Section 504 regulations and guidelines define a physical or mental impairment, and major life activities. Examples of major life activities are walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, working, caring for oneself, and performing manual tasks. The determination of substantial limitation must be made on a case-by-case basis with respect to each individual student.
A medical diagnosis for an illness does not automatically mean a student can receive services under Section 504. A temporary impairment with expected duration of six months or less must be reviewed to determine if substantial enough to qualify as a disability, and taking into consideration the extent to which it actually limits a major life activity.
Once a student is identified as eligible for services under Section 504, they are entitled to services as long as the student remains eligible with a disability. If a re-evaluation is completed and it is determined that the student’s impairment no longer substantially limits a major life activity, the student is no longer eligible for services under Section 504.
When a student is found to have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a 504 Plan will be developed and implemented with parental consent. The 504 plan will list accommodations and supports that the school district will provide in order for the student to have FAPE. Examples of accommodations in a 504 plan would be preferential seating, extended time on tests, behavior support, health room visits, verbal testing, technology aids and adjusted class schedules. School District guidelines will outline requirements for review of the Section 504 Plan, which is normally done annually.
School districts are required to establish and implement a system of Section 504 procedural safeguards 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. This includes notice for evaluation and placement decisions, opportunity for parents to review their child’s records, an impartial due process, and a review procedure.
When a student meets the requirements under Section 504 and is also eligible for special education programs and services under IDEA, the student’s needs will be supported through an Individualized Education Program (IEP). Since the IEP will include accommodations based on the student’s needs, a separate 504 plan is not required in that case.
Go Solutions has a Section 504 module that can help school districts manage the process and track their student data. There are 504 forms to use for evaluations, meetings, consent, and accommodation plans. The forms have been reviewed and approved by legal professionals to ensure they are compliant with Section 504 regulations. The 504 data management system keeps information together in one place, and will remind staff about 504 plans and reevaluations that are coming due to ensure deadlines are met for all students. Lastly, the 504 reports can be used to provide a quick overview and allow further review of all 504 student data.