SECTION 504 OF THE REHABILITATION ACT OF 1973
What is Section 504?
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance from the U.S. Department of Education. The District has specific responsibilities related to the provision of a “free appropriate public education” (FAPE) to school-age individuals with disabilities under Section 504. A FAPE under Section 504 consists of the provision of regular or special education and related aids and services designed to meet the student’s individual educational needs as adequately as the needs of students without disabilities are met.
A Section 504 Plan is a plan that requires classroom teachers and other school staff to provide accommodations and/or services necessary for Section 504 eligible students to participate in and benefit from public education programs and activities. Accommodations may provide support for physical, instructional, or social/emotional needs. Section 504 supports are often provided and managed by general education staff members, at times in collaboration with special education staff members, as Section 504 plans consist of regular or special education and related aids and services.
What is the difference between Section 504 and IDEA?
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal statute providing for the education of students with disabilities. Section 504 and the IDEA contain requirements for FAPE for students with disabilities, but there are some differences. For example, the Section 504 definition of a disability is broader. Generally, all individuals who are disabled under the IDEA are also considered to be entitled to rights and protection under Section 504. A student with a disability who does not qualify for special education under the IDEA may qualify for services and/or accommodations under Section 504.
Who qualifies for a Section 504 Plan?
For FAPE purposes, an individual with a disability under Section 504 is any person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity.
A physical or mental impairment is any 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; hemic and lymphatic; skin; and endocrine; or any mental or psychological disorder, such as mental retardation, organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness, and specific learning disabilities.
Major life activities include functions such as caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, working, reading, thinking, and concentrating. This list is not exhaustive. Other functions can be major life activities for purposes of Section 504.
The determination of whether a student has a disability under Section 504 must be made on a case-by-case basis. In addition, when determining if someone meets the definition of a disability, the definition must be understood to provide broad coverage to individuals, consistent with the requirements of the ADA Amendment Act of 2008 and its implementing regulations. Such a determination may not be foreclosed solely on the basis of bottom line measures, such as grades.
How are students identified as being eligible for a Section 504 Plan?
When a student is exhibiting academic, participation, attendance, social and/or behavioral problems the student’s school should consider interventions through its professional team process, the Coordination of Services (COS) team, Section 504 team, or other team. This consideration should result in: general education interventions (such as tiered interventions in a Response to Instruction and Intervention model), a referral to assess for Section 504 eligibility, and/or a referral for a special education evaluation pursuant to the IDEA. Parents also may refer the student for Section 504 consideration at any time by contacting your student’s principal or counselor at the school site. If the student is suspected of having a disability under IDEA, the district should proceed with IDEA evaluation procedures.
When a student is referred for a Section 504 evaluation –
- The school site Section 504 Coordinator will either inform the parent of a decision to not evaluate a student and provide procedural safeguards by letter within 30 days of receipt of the referral or convene a team to determine eligibility and, if appropriate, develop a plan within 60 days of receipt of the referral.
- The school must complete the Section 504 Review and Eligibility Form. Evaluation material may include: formal & informal test results, aptitude and achievement tests, data from tier II interventions, observations and anecdotal records, attendance and behavior records, medical reports, grades/transcripts, teacher reports, and recommendations.
- A student meets the eligibility requirements under Section 504 if the site team determines that there is evidence of a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.
If the team determines that the student is eligible to receive a FAPE under Section 504, the team will develop a Section 504 Service Plan.
In what areas do schools provide accommodations for Section 504?
Students who have been determined to be eligible for Section 504 services must have an accommodation plan for delivery of needed services created by the district. Section 504 plans consist of the provision of regular or special education and related aids and services designed to meet the student’s individual educational needs as adequately as the needs of nondisabled students are met. Accommodations generally involve adjustments made by classroom teachers and other staff to enable the Section 504 eligible student to benefit from his/her educational program. Accommodations may provide support of a physical, instructional, or social/emotional nature.
Re-Evaluation and a Significant Change of Placement
Section 504 requires schools to conduct re-evaluations periodically and before any significant change in educational placement. A significant change of placement may occur when there is an exclusion from the educational program of more than 10 school days, there is a series of short-term exclusions (each 10 school days or fewer) from the educational program if the short-term exclusions total more than 10 school days and create a pattern of removal, and transferring a student from one type of program to another or terminating or significantly changing a related service.
For more information, please contact your school site administrator, counselor or the District’s Section 504 coordinator, Dr. Phillip Shelley.
Dr. Phillip Shelley
Director, Student Services
District Section 504 Plan Coordinator
2020 Bonar Street, Room 112
Berkeley, CA 94702