Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
Commonly referred to as "Section 504", this federal statute protects individuals from discrimination based on disability. It is not an educational law, but rather a civil rights act that ensures "No qualified handicapped person shall, on the basis of handicap, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or otherwise be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity which receives Federal financial assistance." In the public school setting it guarantees a "free appropriate public education to each qualified handicapped person who is in the recipient's jurisdiction, regardless of the nature or severity of the person's handicap."
To be eligible, one must:
- have a physical or mental impairment which substantial limits one or more major life activities
- have record of such an impairment, or
- is regarded as having such an impairment.
(individuals who are eligible under "prongs" 2 &3 do not receive a service plan, but are entitled to the non-discrimination benefits of Section 504)
A physical or mental impairment are impairments such as ADHD, cancer, epilepsy, diabetes, autism, depression, bipolar disorder, auditory or visual impairments, cerebral palsy, or muscular dystrophy. The list is not exhaustive. Dyslexia is commonly considered an impairment for Section 504 purposes.
Major life activities are things like seeing, hearing, breathing, learning, walking, communicating, and performing manual tasks. Again, the list is not exhaustive.
Substantial limitation is not defined, and the measurement of any impairment is left up to individual Section 504 committees to determine.
Due to the narrow interpretation by the courts of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) during the late 1990's and early 2000's, Congress amended the act via the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendment Act of 2008 (ADAAA). The intent of this was to broaden the scope of eligibility, allowing more people to seek legal relief due to disability discrimination. A conforming amendment in the ADAAA applies the changes to the ADA to Section 504 as well. These changes include:
- Expanding the list of major life activities to include things like concentrating, thinking, reading and major bodily functions;
- Specifying that an impairment does not need to severely or significantly limit a major life activity to be substantially limiting;
- Requires the determination of limitation be made without regard of the ameliorative effects of mitigating measures such as medication, prosthetic devices, assistive devices, or learned behavioral or adaptive neurological modifications.
- Requires the determination of limitation be made for a impairment that is episodic in nature or in remission, when the impairment is active.
Section 504 EvaluationsPrior to placement in Section 504, an evaluation must be held. Parental consent must be obtained, and in CCISD we request that consent in writing. Except in the case of dyslexia, most evaluations under Section 504 do not involve individual testing, relying instead on data that is readily available such as grades, attendance, state assessment results, discipline records, other cumulative records, teacher observation and input, medical information, parent input and student input.
The Section 504 Committee is composed of school staff (typically an administrator and teachers) that reviews the information, makes eligibility decisions and determines appropriate accommodations. While parents are not required members of the committee, they are invited to the meetings and their input is valuable to the committee.
Section 504 regulations require periodic reevaluations, but does not specifically define how frequently meetings should be held. Best practice in CCISD is to have annual meetings, or more frequently if a student exhibits difficulty in the school setting, or the parent or student requests a meeting.
Parent RightsParents and students have the right to notice, an opportunity to examine relevant records, an impartial hearing with opportunity for participation by the person's parents or guardian and representation by counsel.
Dismissal from §504Students who qualify for §504 may eventually no longer qualify for §504 and will be dismissed from §504. The Office for Civil Right’s FAQ website states, “if a recipient school district re-evaluates a student in accordance with the Section 504 regulatory provision at 34 C.F.R. 104.35 and determines that the student's mental or physical impairment no longer substantially limits his/her ability to learn or any other major life activity, the student is no longer eligible for services under Section 504”. Students dismissed from Section 504 because their dyslexia is no longer substantially limiting reading or learning will be informally monitored by the campus dyslexia teacher for one year.
What Should You Do If You Disagree with the Section 504 Committee?If you disagree with the decisions of the Section 504 committee you have several options:
- you may contact the District Section 504 Coordinator, Lisa Hardcastle, at 281-284-0078;
- you may file a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights;
- you may request, in writing, an hearing before an impartial hearing officer.
Section 504 Regulations
Protecting Students with Disabilities - Frequently Asked Questions About Section 504
Q&A on the ADAAA
ESC 13 FAQ's Section 504
Twenty Myths About Section 504
Keys to Understanding Section 504 and IDEA
A Parent's Guide to Section 504 in the Schools