A Parent's Guide to Section 504
This important civil rights law can provide educational benefits to kids with learning disabilities and/or AD/HD in public schools.
By Mary Durheim
Section 504 — Just what exactly is it? We all have heard about it, but every school district addresses Section 504 in a different manner. Some districts have even been heard to say, "we don't do that in this district." School districts do have the right and responsibility to establish their own policies and procedures for implementing Section 504. This article attempts to answer basic questions pertaining to the implementation of Section 504 in public school systems.
What is Section 504?
Section 504 is a part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that prohibits discrimination based upon disability. Section 504 is an anti-discrimination, civil rights statute that requires the needs of students with disabilities to be met as adequately as the needs of the non-disabled are met.
Section 504 states that:
"No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States, as defined in section 706(8) of this title, shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance...." [29 U.S.C. §794(a), 34 C.F.R. §104.4(a)].
Who is covered by Section 504?
To be covered under Section 504, a student must be "qualified" (which roughly equates to being between 3 and 22 years of age, depending on the program as well as state and federal law, and must have a disability) [34 C.F.R. §104.3(k)(2)].
Who is an "individual with a disability"?
As defined by federal law:
"An individual with a disability means any person who:
has a mental or physical impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activity;
has a record of such an impairment; or
is regarded as having such an impairment" [34 C.F.R. §104.3(j)(1)].
What is an "impairment" as used under the Section 504 definition?
An impairment as used in Section 504 may include any disability, long-term illness, or various disorder that "substantially" reduces or lessens a student's ability to access learning in the educational setting because of a learning-, behavior-, or health-related condition. ["It should be emphasized that a physical or mental impairment does not constitute a disability for purposes of Section 504 unless its severity is such that it results in a substantial limitation of one or more major life activities" (Appendix A to Part 104, #3)].
Many students have conditions or disorders that are not readily apparent to others. They may include conditions such as specific learning disabilities, diabetes, epilepsy, and allergies. Hidden disabilities such as low vision, poor hearing, heart disease, or chronic illness may not be obvious, but if they substantially limit that child's ability to receive an appropriate education as defined by Section 504, they may be considered to have an "impairment" under Section 504 standards. As a result, these students, regardless of their intelligence, will be unable to fully demonstrate their ability or attain educational benefits equal to that of non-disabled students (The Civil Rights of Students with Hidden Disabilities under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 — Pamphlet).
The definition does not set forth a list of specific diseases, conditions, or disorders that constitute impairments because of the difficulty of ensuring the comprehensiveness of any such list. While the definition of a disabled person also includes specific limitations on what persons are classified as disabled under the regulations, it also specifies that only physical and mental impairments are included, thus "environmental, cultural, and economic disadvantage are not in themselves covered" (Appendix A to Part 104, #3).
What are "major life activities"?
Major life activities include, but are not limited to: self-care, manual tasks, walking, seeing, speaking, sitting, thinking, learning, breathing, concentrating, interacting with others, and working. This may include individuals with AD/HD, dyslexia, cancer, diabetes, severe allergies, chronic asthma, Tourette's Syndrome, digestive disorders, cardiovascular disorders, depression, conduct disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, HIV/AIDS, behavior disorders, temporary disabilities (e.g., broken writing arm, broken leg, etc.). Students who are currently using illegal drugs or alcohol are not covered or eligible under Section 504.
What does "substantially limits" mean?
Substantially limits is not defined in the federal regulations. However, in a letter from the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), they state, "this is a determination to be made by each local school district and depends on the nature and severity of the person's disabling condition." Additional guidance from the Americans with Disabilities Act states: "significantly restricted as to the condition, manner, or duration under which an individual can perform a particular major life activity when compared to the condition, manner, or duration under which the average person in the general population can perform that same major life activity."
Who can refer a child for consideration for evaluation under Section 504?
Anyone can refer a child for evaluation under Section 504. However, while anyone can make a referral, such as parents or a doctor, OCR stated in a staff memorandum that "the school district must also have reason to believe that the child is in need of services under Section 504 due to a disability." (OCR Memorandum, April 29, 1993.)
Therefore, a school district does not have to refer or evaluate a child under Section 504 solely upon parental demand. The key to referral is whether the school district staff suspects that the child is suffering from a mental or physical impairment that substantially limits a major life activity and is in need of either regular education with supplementary services or special education and related services [Letter to Mentink 19 IDELR 1127 (OCR) 1993]. If a parent requests a referral for evaluation, and the school district refuses, the school district must provide the parent with notice of their procedural rights under Section 504.
Who decides whether a student is qualified and eligible for services under Section 504?
According to the federal regulations:
"...placement decisions are to be made by a group of persons who are knowledgeable about the child, the meaning of the evaluation data, placement options, least restrictive environment requirements, and comparable facilities" [34 C.F.R. §104.35(c)(3)].
Unlike Special Education, the federal regulations for Section 504 do not require or even mention that parents are to be a part of the decision-making committee. The decision to include parents in the decision-making committee is a determination that is made by each school district and should be spelled out in the district's procedures for implementing Section 504. Parents should at least be asked and encouraged to contribute any information that they may have (e.g., doctor's reports, outside testing reports, etc.) that would be helpful to the Section 504 committee in their determination of what the child may need. Schools are expected to make sound educational decisions as to what the child needs in order to receive an appropriate education.
What information is used in doing an evaluation under Section 504?
Under Section 504, no formalized testing is required. The 504 Committee should look at grades over the past several years, teacher's reports, information from parents or other agencies, state assessment scores or other school administered tests, observations, discipline reports, attendance records, health records, and adaptive behavior information. Schools must consider a variety of sources. A single source of information (such as a doctor's report) cannot be the only information considered. Schools must be able to assure that all information submitted is documented and considered.
Can my child be placed under Section 504 wthout my knowledge?
No. Parents should always be given notice in writing before their child is evaluated and/or placed under Section 504. (34 C.F.R. §104.36). Parents must also be given a copy of their child's Section 504 accommodation plan if the committee determines that the child is eligible under Section 504.
What types of accommodations will my child receive if determined eligible under Section 504?
Each child's needs are determined individually. Determination of what is appropriate for each child is based on the nature of the disabling condition and what that child needs in order to have an equal opportunity to compete when compared to the non-disabled. There is no guarantee of A's or B's or even that the student will not fail. Students are still expected to produce. The ultimate goal of education for all students, with or without disabilities, is to give students the knowledge and compensating skills they will need to be able to function in life after graduation.
Accommodations that may be used, but are not limited to, include:
Extended time on tests or assignments
Peer assistance with note-taking
Extra set of textbooks for home use
Computer aided instruction
Behavior intervention plans
Rearranging class schedules
Preferred seating assignments
Will my child still be in the regular classroom or will he/she be in a "special class"?
A Section 504 eligible child will always be in the regular classroom unless (according to federal regulations): "... the student with a disability is so disruptive in a regular classroom that the education of other students is significantly impaired, then the needs of the student with a disability cannot be met in that environment. Therefore, regular placement would not be appropriate to his or her needs and would not be required by §104.34" (34 C.F.R. §104.34, Appendix A, #24).
Can my child still be disciplined under Section 504?
Yes. Children under Section 504 are still expected to follow the district's student code of conduct. However, when disciplining a child under Section 504, schools must consider the relationship between the disability and the misbehavior if the child is going to be removed from the regular setting for longer than 10 days. This does not mean that a student with a disability cannot be sent to a discipline center or that they cannot go to in-school suspension, or be suspended from school for three days. Very strict guidelines exist for schools in discipline issues with students who have a disability under Section 504. Your campus or district 504 coordinator can assist you in this area should you have additional questions concerning the discipline of students with disabilities. Children having disabilities with behavioral components should have individual discipline plans as well as behavior intervention plans.
If I dsagree with the school's evaluation, will the school district pay for an outside independent evaluation?
Under Section 504, schools are not required to pay for an outside independent evaluation. If a parent disagrees with the school's evaluation decision, they may request a due process hearing or file a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights. (See Notice of Parent and Student Rights Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.)
How often will my child be re-evaluated?
While there are no specific time lines on this issue, students must be re-evaluated at least every three years or whenever there is going to be a "significant change in placement". The campus 504 committee should re-evaluate your child's plan every year to make sure that his or her accommodation plan is appropriate based on their current schedule and individual needs. The accommodation plan may be revised during the school year if needed.
Will my child still be able to participate in non-academic services?
Yes. Districts must provide equal opportunity in areas such as counseling, physical education and/or athletics, transportation, health services, recreational activities, and special interest groups or clubs. However, the "no pass, no play" standard used for students in most states also applies to students under Section 504 (34 C.F.R. §104.37).
What Are My Rights as a Parent under Section 504?
As a parent or legal guardian, you have the right to:
Receive notice regarding the identification, evaluation, and/or placement of your child;
Examine relevant records pertaining to your child;
Request an impartial hearing with respect to the district's actions regarding the identification, evaluation, or placement of your child, with an opportunity for the parent/guardian to participate in the hearing, to have representation by an attorney, and have a review procedure;
File a complaint with your school district Section 504 Coordinator, who will investigate the allegations regarding Section 504 matters other than your child's identification, evaluation, and placement.
File a complaint with the appropriate regional Office for Civil Rights. For additional information, contact:
I would start by putting a written request for a full educational evaluation.Forward a copy to the classroom teacher , IEP team, and school Principal.
My daughter has APD...she has a 504...If you google what is a 504 plan....about .com explains it....My daughters grades were low...They seen she had a problem following directions...They suggested I have her tested....That was in fourth grade...She is in eighth grade now and still struggles...I feel that they could be doing more for her...
Crabby70,I can understand why your dd is still having problems with a 504. It consist of just preferential seating extra text for home and or extended time on test. What your dd needs is a IEP. With an IEP unlike a 504 there are goals written every year in the area she is struggling in. She would go to resource to work with a specialized ESE teacher on these goals.She will receive the classroom modifications, Extra text, extended time on test and whatever other related services she needs.
When was the last time she was evaluated? It is not to late to have the school reevaluate her. Put the request in writing! I'm confused they told you to have her evaluated? Did you have a private evaluation at your expense? Or did the school evaluate her?
She just was evaluted....She has the seating and all that...It just her study skills are not good....and she is 14 and social....I did have private evaluation....First time was school....Her teachers don't really get the APD....They think she doesn't apply herself...So it is a battle....I have a weekly progress report that seem to be helping...
crabby70,Is your dd on an IEP or 504. Or did she not qualify for an IEP? If it's her study skills that are just not good and she does have an IEP, how is that being addressed? Maybe those goals need to be changed.
she didn't qualify for IEP....In the last two weeks I requested a weekly progress report...So she is improving....I am just afraid when she gets to high school....How hard it will be for her...
I presume APD is Auditory Processing Disorder? This is a medically recognised condition. They have to meet her needs in school. Did the professioinal who diagnosed her given any information about the types of thing she will have difficulties with and how school can support her? If not ask them to send you a full report and pass that onto the school and ask them to contact their Educationa Psychologist to make recommendations to school about how they can meet her needs and support her in school. Make sure you put everything in writing and keep copies of it as your evidence of requests made. Always ask for written replies to your letters.
I think she should be entitled to an IEP because it is a 'disorder' and a disorder is for life. If she was blind or deaf they would have an IEP to set out how she would be supported in school and what those structures would be.
An Educational Psychologist should be able to make some very useful suggestions eg. all classwork to be printed out so that she doesn't have to try to 'hear' what the teacher is saying. If she finds it hard to habituate to background noise, she should have access to small group work or a work area designed to screen out some background noise. It should be adapted to address the difficulties your daughter has as each person is affected differently.
In high school she may need either printed out worksheets and notes of all lessons or a scribe to write notes for her. She should have more adult attention to make sure she has understood what is being taught and what she is supposed to be doing.
She may also need assessing by a Speech and Language Therapist to see what her auditory memory and working memory are like as those with APD can sometimes have difficulties in those areas as well because it involves auditory processing skills.
The school has the full report...The doctor was great putting down everything that would help her....I am working on getting her outlines for some classes....The doctor also suggested a language therapist....The school and teachers have lack of knowledge of ADP....Since she does not apply herself and she is social that think that is mostly the problem...Last year they suggested tutoring again....So I did....Never heard anything bad about how she was doing...The teacher called me three days before the end of the year to tell me that she was failing....I said the tutoring didn't help...She said I'm sorry "no"...Waited to the last minute to tell me...Wasted my money and time...So that tells me kinda how the teachers are...... I have been reaching out to them since 6th grade...I mentioned the ADP....They would brush it off....I had her retested over the summer so they have a new report....I feel bad because this puts pressure on our relationship...I am on her about her grades...
If you ask me, It sounds like they did not tell because they are scared that you will pursue further testing.
".The school and teachers have lack of knowledge of ADP"
You'll be surprise how much knowlendge they really do have!
This past testing, Did the school test her or did you have her tested? Was it an IEE or did you pay for it. They dont have to except any out side evaluations or recommendation. Post those test scores on the link I sent you.
I paid but the doctor they know because she is the one that tests for them....They excepted it...I have talked to my son case manager she has guided me what to do...She said they are lost at that school...
Crabby I confused, If they excepted your private evaluation, Then why are YOU still working on an outline for her classes since last summer. And why are they not providing the language therapy recommended by the psychologist.. The school being" lost" on APD and what to do is inexcusable. If they don't know what to do or have a language therapist in the entire district you live in, then they need to provide you outside private therapy at no coast to you. It does not sound like they excepted your outside evaluation. And if this doctor works for them, then why did they make you pay for it ? They are playing you! The nerve of them telling you get a private tutor instead of helping your dd..................................
She has a 504...she gets her outlines, special seating...and I am getting weekly progress reports....The doctor suggested I have evaluated for her langauge... They said any time I want to change anything ley them know...She has very bad study skills...I am working on that with her...
We just put a 504 plan together for my child for the next school year since she is going into middle school. My child has a brain tumor and was operated on nearly two years ago and still has effects from surgery such as falls asleep in school and balance problems. In our district you have to write a request in to the school. They call you in for a meeting. In my case it was with her teachers, counselors school physiologist, principle, nurse. From my understanding you need some sort of doctors note. They had ours on file since our child was diagnosed in the middle of the school and had to miss the rest of the year. So they had her records from providing home teachers. They fill out the forms and it has to be approved. In my case it was approved right in the meeting.
My name is Melissa Atkinson and I am writing this post in regards to my Autistic daughter. She was diagnosed two years with Autisum Spectrum Disorder. She is now 5 but with a mind of an3 yr old. In April of this year i regestered my daughter for school, I was told by my social worker she was going to be attending A School for autistic children. I was happy be cause she now can get the help she needs and will be around kids just like her. Two days before she was to start school I got a call she was going to a public school. I was upset. She attended her 1st day, was put in time out because she doesnt respond to her name and was unable to cross her legs. She also fell and I wasn't notified. They are refusing to move her into a school just for her. I requested and IEP as well as 504. How can I fight this? She screams and cries everyday. Do I get a lawyer? I know her rights she is suppose to have an aide as well as a 504. How do I get a 504? Any advice please email me at ***@****.
Pissed off mom In NJ