Section 504: “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)].
Section 504 Overview
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination based on disability. For schools, 504 requires that the specialized needs of students with disabilities are met as adequately as their non-disabled counter parts. If the school does not provide the disabled student with proper education then it is considered a violation of the student’s civil rights under section 504.
“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…”
Who is covered under 504?
To qualify under section 504 the student must be a qualified “individual with a disability.” Typically “qualified” would mean a child that is between the ages of 3 and 22. An “individual with a disability” is defined as:
“An individual with a disability means any person who: (i) has a mental or physical impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity; (ii) has a record of such an impairment; or (iii) is regarded as having such an impairment.” 34 C.F.R. §104.3(j)(1).
Under section 504 an impairment can include a broad range of disabling impairments that are either health or behavior related and 504 does not list specific qualified disabilities. The only requirement is that the impairment “limits one or more major life activity.” The impairment does not have to effect the child’s ability to attain passing grades, and many 504 plans address emotional or physical needs of children performing at grade level and succeeding academically.
To determine if the impairment limits a life activity the child will first be evaluated by the school after notifying the parent and obtaining consent. Parents can also initiate a 504 evaluation by request.
What is a 504 plan?
A 504 plan specifically lays out the modifications, accommodations, and other services that allows the qualified child to adequately participate in the learning environment without barriers. There is not a standard 504 plan specifically required by law. Every district will have different ways in which they deal with 504 plans.
A parent may ask to be involved in the child’s 504 plan, but the district is not required by law to allow the parent to participate. Typically, the 504 plan is developed by a team who know the student and are familiar with the data of the evaluation and specialized service options.
What to do if you disagree with a 504 plan?
There are multiple options if you disagree with the school’s decision about your child’s education in regards to 504 plan implementation which include the following steps:
- Notify the school of your disagreement
- Request a mediator to reach an agreement
- Request a hearing before an impartial hearing officer
- File a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights
- File a lawsuit