United States Student Rights

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…”

Who is covered under 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)

Who is an “individual with a disability”?

As defined by federal law: “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”

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)].

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 has 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 a 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.

Can my child be placed under Section 504 wthout my knowledge?

No. Parents must always be given notice 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.

Will my child still be in the regular classroom or will he 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.

What are my rights as a parent under Section 504?

As a parent or legal guardian, you have the right to:

  1. Receive notice regarding the identification, evaluation and/or placement of your child;
  2. Examine relevant records pertaining to your child;
  3. 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;
  4. 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.
  5. File a complaint with the appropriate regional Office for Civil Rights. For additional information, contact: U.S. Department of Education, Washington, D.C. 20202-1100
    (800) 421-3481
    www.ed.gov/ocr
    E-mail: ocr@ed.gov
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