What Is Section 504? Section 504 is a civil rights statute, intended to eliminate obstacles to full educational participation by students with disabilities. The goal of Section 504 is the “equal educational opportunity for all students”. Section 504 requires that “[n]o otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States…shall, solely by reason of his or her disability, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance. See 20 U.S.C. § 794(a).
How Is a Student Eligible for Section 504?
In order to be qualified for assistance under Section 504, the student must be between the ages of three (3) and twenty-one (21) years of age and meet the definition of “disabled.” A student is disabled if he/she 1. has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities 2. has a record of such impairment, or 3. is regarded as having such an impairment.
What Is a Physical or Mental Disability?
A physical or mental impairment means (A) a 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; hermic and lymphatic; skin and endocrine; or (B) any mental or psychological disorder, such as mental retardation, organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness and specific learning disabilities.
What Does “Substantially Limits” Mean?
Section 504 regulations do not define “substantially limits,” but has stated that the determination must be made on an individual basis. Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act provides three factors to characterize the term “substantially limits:” • Nature and severity of the impairment • Duration or expected duration of the impairment • Permanent, long-term impact or expected impact of the impairment. The determination of whether an impairment substantially limits a major life activity shall be made without regard to the ameliorative effects of mitigating measures. These include medication, medical supplies, equipment or appliances, low-vision devices, prosthetics including limbs and devices, hearing aids and cochlear implants or other implantable hearing devices, mobility devices, or oxygen therapy equipment and supplies. Further, you cannot consider the use of assistive technology, reasonable accommodations, auxiliary aids or services, or learned behavioral or adaptive neurological modifications. Ordinary eyeglasses and contact lenses are not included in this provision.
What Is a Major Life Activity?
Major Life Activities are functions such as caring for one’s self, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, working, eating, sleeping, standing, lifting, bending, reading, concentrating, thinking, and communicating. Major life activities can also include major bodily functions such as immune system function, bowel function, neurological function, circulatory function, normal cell growth, bladder function, respiratory function, endocrine function, digestive function, brain function, and reproductive function.
How Is a Student Referred for Section 504 Eligibility?
Any parent, guardian, teacher, counselor, or other school staff member who believes a student may need an accommodation for a qualified disability can request an evaluation for §504 eligibility. If you wish to request an evaluation for Section 504, use the Parent Referral form. The District must have parental consent before conducting an evaluation.
What Is the Eligibility Determination Process?
The decision to qualify a student for §504 services is made by a multidisciplinary team of people. This team includes persons knowledgeable about the student, the meaning of evaluation data, and educational accommodations, and interventions. This typically includes persons such as the student’s teacher, school psychologist, guidance counselor, school nurse, and school administrator. If necessary, other professionals may be invited. The family may also invite any relevant outside person(s).
In addition to the information provided by the parents, the following information must be reviewed at the meeting:
• Standardized achievement tests
• Medical information including hearing, vision, medications, and any relevant developmental history
• Academic grades and transcripts
• Primary language (home and student)
• Discipline records
• School history
• Teacher reports/observations
Evaluations under Section 504 are not limited to formal evaluation instruments. Because the disabilities that may fall under Section 504 are broader than the specific disabilities listed in IDEA, evaluative information for a student may come from a number of sources, including aptitude and achievement tests, teacher recommendations, the student’s physical condition (as attested to by the student’s physician), the student’s social or cultural background, or the student’s adaptive behavior. Section 504’s implementing regulations note that any evaluation of a student must consider all significant factors relating to the student’s learning process, including adaptive behavior. Thus, evaluations must be based on the type of disability suspected and the kind of services needed. In some cases, the evaluation is done by the §504 Multidisciplinary Team. The team can look at existing evaluation data, review school records, obtain observation data, evaluate effectiveness of educational interventions over time, determine eligibility under §504, and recommend programming within general education.
After reviewing the relevant information, the team will determine whether the student is a student with a disability that significantly impacts a major life activity. In order to be eligible to receive legal protections under §504, the student’s ability to perform major life activities, including, but not limited to, learning or behaving appropriately, must be substantially limited and the definition of “substantially limited” must be more broadly construed and generally applied than “severely restricted.” The purpose of §504, as stated by Congress, is to provide “broad coverage of individuals under this Act, to the maximum extent permitted by the terms of this Act.” Notwithstanding, the fact that a student has a diagnosed physical or mental impairment does not automatically mean s/he will qualify for an accommodation plan under §504.
Educational need is defined as a serious academic deficit and/or a serious behavior problem resulting from the child’s disability (and not from other causes); or any other physical or mental impairment which seriously affects the student’s opportunity to benefit from educational services.
If the team determines that the student is eligible for 504 protections, the team will develop a Section 504 plan.
How Is a 504 Plan Developed?
The §504 Multidisciplinary Team determines what educational accommodations are needed to achieve equality/ comparability of access to educational activities for the student with a disability. In addition to the normal and usual academic and school activities, students must also be given the opportunity to participate in non-academic and extracurricular services and activities, such as recreational and athletic activities, and school-sponsored clubs, events and activities. Participation in such non-academic activities may require accommodations.
How Is a 504 Plan Implemented and Reviewed?
All of the professional staff who work with the student must be provided a copy of the student’s Section 504 plan. Paraprofessional staff who work with the student should also be thoroughly familiar with any accommodations that the student requires to receive an appropriate education.
On an annual basis, or more often if needed, the team will reconvene to review the plan. At the meeting, the following questions will be asked:
• Is the student still eligible for a 504 plan?
• Is there new information that needs to be considered?
• Are the current accommodations working?
• Do any changes need to be made to the plan?
Based on the answers to the above questions, the team may decide to continue the same 504 plan, make changes to the plan, or discontinue the plan because the student is no longer eligible.