Section 504 is the portion of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 which applies to persons with disabilities. Basically, it is a federal civil rights act which protects the civil and constitutional rights of persons with disabilities. Section 504 prohibits organizations which receive federal funds from discriminating against otherwise qualified individuals with disabilities in the United States by reason of his/her disability. If further prohibits the exclusion from the participation in, the denial of benefits from, or the subjection to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance. Section 504 is enforced by the United States Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR).
The definition of an individual with a disability under Section 504 covers a much broader population than the definition of a disabled person under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). IDEA is a federal statute that mandates a free, appropriate public education (FAPE) to infants, toddlers and children with disabilities in a manner consistent with federal mandates. Under IDEA infants and toddlers (0-2) with disabilities and children 3-21 who meet the definition of a preschool child with a disability or one of the 13 disability categories applicable to school age children are provided special education services and/or related services as indicated by their Individual Education Plan (IEP). Section 504 extends its protection not only to students, but to job applicants, employees and all individuals, otherwise eligible, to participate in school sponsored programs or activities.
Under Section 504 a person is considered handicapped or disabled if he/she:
1. has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities, such as walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, working caring for oneself, and performing manual tasks,
2. has a record of such an impairment, or
3. is regarded as having such an impairment.
Again, the Section 504 Rehabilitation Act goes beyond covering just students with disabilities. Examples of individuals with disabilities under Section 504 not covered by IDEA are:
1. alcohol and/or drug addiction,
2. communicable diseases (AIDS, etc.),
3. injured students (broken legs, etc.),
4. homebound student (auto accident),
5. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD),
6. socially maladjusted/behavior disorders,
7. chronic asthma and severe allergies,
8. students who are 22 or older depending on state law,
9. parents who have a handicapping condition,
10. employees, and
11. post-secondary institutions
Section 504 requires that all school districts provide written assurances of nondiscrimination in any and all federally funded program applications. School districts must also designate an employee to coordinate Section 504 compliance and adopt grievance procedures to resolve any complaints. Districts must also provide notice of nondiscrimination to participants, beneficiaries, applicants and employees, including those with impaired vision or hearing, and to unions or professional organizations holding collective bargaining or professional agreements with the recipients. Districts must provide notice annually of the school board’s responsibilities under Section 504 to disabled students and their parents. A sample notice of Section 504 parent/student rights can be found in Appendix 1.
To ensure compliance with the above mentioned federal regulations districts should adopt comprehensive Section 504 policies and procedures which specifically address the provision of a free appropriate public education to school age students with disabilities. It is imperative that our school officials be aware of the requirements and the limitation of this federal civil rights act.
Section 504 Due Process
Below is a description of the right granted by federal law to students with disabilities. The intent of the law is to keep you fully informed concerning decisions about your child and to inform you of your rights if you disagree with any of these decisions.
You have the right to the following:
- Right to have your child with disabilities take part in, and receive benefits from public education programs without discrimination because of his or her disability.
- Right to receive all information in the parent’s or guardian’s native language or primary other mode of communication.
- Right to have your child receive a free appropriate public education which includes the right of the child to be educated with students without disabilities to the maximum extent appropriate.
- Right to have your child have equal opportunity to participate in school programs and extracurricular activities sponsored by the school.
- Right to receive notice a reasonable time before a district identifies, evaluates or changes your child’s placement.
- Right to inspect and review all of your child’s educational records, including the right to obtain copies of education records at reasonable cost unless the cost would deny you access to the records, and the right to amend the record if you believe information contained in the record is inaccurate or misleading. If the school district refuses to amend the record, you have a right to request a hearing.
- Right to have educational evaluation and placement decisions made based on information from a variety of sources and by persons who know the needs of the student, meaning of evaluation data and placement options.
- Right to periodic reevaluation and evaluation before any significant change in placement.
- Right to an impartial hearing if you disagree with the school district’s proposed action. You will be an active participant. You have the right to be represented by counsel in the impartial hearing process. You have the right to appeal the impartial hearing officer’s decision.