Section 504 is the section of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which applies to persons with disabilities. It is a federal civil rights law that protects the civil and constitutional rights of persons with disabilities. Section 504 prohibits organizations that receive federal funds (public schools are covered under this) from discriminating against people solely because they have a disability. Section 504 is enforced by the US Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR).
Section 504 regulation defines an "individual with handicaps" as any person who (a) has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities, (b) has a record of such an impairment, or (c) is regarded as having such an impairment. The regulation further defines a physical or mental impairment as (A) 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 (B) any mental or psychological disorder, such as mental retardation, organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness, and specific learning disabilities. Please note that the definition does not set forth a list of specific diseases and conditions that constitute physical or mental impairments because of the difficulty of ensuring the comprehensiveness of any such list.
The key factor in determining whether a person is considered an "individual with handicaps" covered by Section 504 is whether the physical or mental impairment results in a substantial limitation of one or more major life activities. Major life activities, as defined in the regulation, include functions such as caring for one's self, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working.
Section 504 differs from the Individuals with Disabilities Education Plan (IDEA) in that it is a civil rights law to prevent discrimination against any individual with a disability. Section 504 is enforced by the Office of Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education. In contrast, IDEA is a statute enforced by the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services and only applies to the special education of students with disabilities.
Therefore, in order for a student to be designated as being eligible for accommodations/ modifications under Section 504, a student must meet the following two criteria:
- Have a documented disability
- This disability must substantially limit a major life activity
Students determined eligible under Section 504 represent a broad range of academic abilities and may participate in courses spanning the full spectrum of the available academic offerings. While the intent of Section 504 is to “level the playing field” it does not guarantee that a student will achieve higher grades.
Policies and Procedures for Section 504 Accommodations
- A student may be referred by him/herself, a parent, or any member of the school staff. The following steps should be followed when a student is referred to the committee as possibly being eligible under Section 504.
- Upon receipt of a request and a student evaluation, it will be forwarded to the school level Section 504 committee.
- The 504 chairperson for each school will respond to the request in writing within ten (10) working days. Parents/guardians will be provided with general information, policies and procedures, and a copy of Parent and Student Rights.
- All data will be evaluated and should include, but is not limited to, academic records, test results, evaluations from qualified professionals, classroom observations and input from school personnel.
- The Section 504 Committee will then convene and will consist of the following personnel: a) the child’s guidance counselor, b) a child study team personnel as appropriate, d) any other school personnel that may be of assistance who knows the student. The following items will be considered:
- Whether or not the student is eligible for accommodation under Section 504.
- Whether or not additional information is required before eligibility can be determined.
- Once a determination of eligibility is determined, the Committee will develop a list of recommended accommodations. The accommodation plan is a legal document that teachers are responsible for implementing. If the Committee determines that the student is not eligible, the parents/guardians will be notified of this fact along with their rights to appeal the decision to the district 504 Coordinator.
- Parents/guardians and students will be notified in writing when a determination for eligibility is made and invited to participate in a meeting to develop a 504 plan.
- If all parties agree on the 504 accommodation plan, it will be signed by all those involved in the plan’s development. Copies of the 504 plan will then be provided to parents/guardians and to each of the student’s teachers.
- Accommodations will be reviewed on an annual basis with modifications implemented or redesigned as needed.
- It is the intent of the 504 Committee to complete each new case within 45 days of a written receipt. Even though the law does not predicate a specific timeline, the Delaware Township School District believes that these cases should be handled in a timely manner. The Committee may extend this time as needed to ensure that a thorough and complete evaluation is completed for each student.