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Section 504

Section 504

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a Federal civil rights law designed to eliminate discrimination on the basis of disability in any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance. Section 504 guarantees certain rights to individuals with disabilities, including the right to full participation and access to afree and appropriate public education (FAPE) to all children regardless of the nature or severity of the disability.  Section 504 requires the provision of appropriate educational services; services that are designed to meet the individual needs of qualified students to the same extent that the needs of students without a disability are met. Essentially Section 504 was designed to "level the playing field," to ensure full participation by individuals with disabilities.

What is Section 504? 

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a federal, civil rights law is designed to protect individuals with disabilities against discrimination in programs and activities that receive federal funds.  The law states no otherwise qualified individual with a disability 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 other program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance. This law applies to public elementary and secondary schools, among other entities.

The Office of Civil Rights enforces Section 504 in programs and activities that receive funds from the US Department of Education. Recipients of these funds include public school districts, institutions of higher education, and other state and local education agencies. The Section 504 regulation requires a school district to provide a "free appropriate public education" (FAPE) to each qualified student with a disability who is in the school district's jurisdiction, regardless of the nature or severity of the disability. FAPE consists of the provision of regular or special education and related aids and services designed to meet the student's individual needs.

What are a school district’s responsibilities to students identified with a disability?

Under the Section 504 regulation, a school district has a number of responsibilities toward qualified disabled persons in its jurisdiction. The school district must:

  • Undertake annually to identify and locate all unserved children with disabilities;
  • Provide a "free appropriate public education" to each student with disabilities, regardless of the nature or severity of the disabling condition. This means providing regular or special education and related aids and services designed to meet the individual educational needs of disabled persons as adequately as the needs of nondisabled persons are met;
  • Ensure that each student with disabilities is educated with nondisabled students to the maximum extent appropriate to the needs of the disabled person, i.e., least restrictive environment;
  • Establish nondiscriminatory evaluation and placement procedures to avoid the inappropriate education that may result from the misclassification or misplacement of students;
  • Establish procedural safeguards to enable parents and guardians to participate meaningfully in decisions regarding the evaluation and placement of their children; and
  • Offer disabled children an equal opportunity to participate in nonacademic and extracurricular services and activities.

What is the definition of a disabled person under section 504:  A qualified individual with a disability under Section 504 is an individual with a mental or physical impairment that substantially limits a major life activity.

Mental or Physical ImpairmentAn impairment as used under 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. There is no list of eligible or ineligible disabilities. However, examples include: AD/HD, dyslexia, cancer, diabetes, severe allergies, chronic asthma, Tourette’s Syndrome, digestive disorders, cardiovascular disorders, depression, conduct disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, HIV/AIDS, behavior disorders, and temporary disorders such as broken limbs.  Each decision on eligibility is made on an individual basis. Many people have impairments.  An impairment is only considered a disability under Section 504 when it reaches the level that it is limiting a major life activity.

Substantial Limitation:  A substantial limitation is not defined in the regulations, but the Office of Civil Rights has interpreted it to mean “unable to perform a major life activity that the average person in the general population can perform; or restricted as to the condition, manner, or duration under which an individual can perform a major life activity as compared to the condition, manner, or duration under which the average person in the general population can perform that same major life activity.”

Major Life Activity:  A major life activity is an activity that is of central importance to the daily life activity of the average person in the general population. An impairment that substantially limits one major life activity need not limit other major life activities in order to be considered a disability. 

Major life activities include, but are not limited to:  operation of a major bodily function, caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating and working.

Mitigating Measures:  Mitigating measures are devices or practices that a person uses to correct for or reduce the effects of that person’s mental or physical impairment. The determination of whether an impairment substantially limits a major life activity shall be made without regard to the effects of mitigating measures such as:

· Medication, medical supplies, equipment, or appliances, low-vision devices (which do not include ordinary eyeglasses or contact lenses), prosthetics including limbs and devices, hearing aids and cochlear implants or other implantable hearing devices, mobility devices, or oxygen therapy equipment and supplies;

·   Use of assistive technology;

·   Reasonable accommodations or auxiliary aids or services; or

·   Learned behavioral or adaptive neurological modifications.

Therefore, students are disabled under Section 504 if they have a physical or mental impairment that WOULD substantially limit them in a major life activity IF THEY WERE NOT taking advantage of mitigating measures.

Determination of Whether a Student Qualifies as Having a Disability Under Section 504:  Federal regulations require that the school district establish a 504/Committee of Knowledgeable Persons to determine whether a student has a disability, i.e., a mental or physical impairment, that "substantially limits" a major life activity.  Persons who serve on this committee must be persons who are knowledgeable about the child, the meaning of the evaluation data, placement options, least restrictive environment requirements, and comparable facilities.  A student who is determined to have a disability is not automatically eligible or covered under Section 504. The disability must substantially limit a major life activity. Furthermore, simply because a student is considered for Section 504 protection does not always mean that the student is eligible. Members of the 504/Committee of Knowledgeable Persons must use their professional judgment to determine eligibility.

The Campus 504/Committee of Knowledgeable Persons will do the following:  
Identification, Referral and Evaluation:

  1.  Any student because of a disability who may need accommodations not available through any other program may be referred to this Committee by parents, guardians, doctors, community agencies or any other school staff.

  2.  Based upon a review of school records or reports from outside evaluators (including, but not limited to, academic, social, attendance, health, behavior or any other helpful information both formal and informal) the Committee will determine if the student meets the eligibility of a student with a disability under Section 504.

  3.  If the Committee determines that the student may have a disability, but does not meet the requirements under Section 504 such that the disability substantially limits a major life activity, the Committee will notify the parent or guardian of the their decision (clearly outlining the basis for this decision).

  4.  The Committee will obtain current evaluation information as needed, but at least every three years to determine of the disability identified continues to meet the qualifications under Section 504.

Individual Accommodation Plan (IAP) and Placement

  1. For a student who has been identified by the Committee as a qualified disabled student under the meaning of Section 504, the Committee will determine and develop a written accommodation plan to ensure that the student has access to a free appropriate education.

  2. The Committee will ensure that the plan will be transmitted to any and all campus staff needing to be aware of and/or implement the plan.

  3. The Committee will ensure that the student will be placed with non-disabled peers or in the placement they would normally attend if they were not disabled under Section 504.

Annual Review

The Committee will monitor the progress of the disabled student and the effectiveness of the student's plan at least annually (or more often if needed) to determine whether the accommodations continue to be appropriate or necessary.
Unlike Special Education, the federal regulations for Section 504 do not require or even mention that parents are to be a part of the 504/Committee of Knowledgeable Persons. However, in Little Cypress Mauriceville CISD, parents are notified of meetings, encouraged to attend, but are not required members of the committee.

Considering Possible Accommodations under Section 504:

  •  When a student is evaluated and does not qualify for special education services under the IDEA
  •  When a parent frequently expresses a concern about their child’s performance
  •  When suspension or expulsion is being considered for a student
  •  When retention is being considered for any student
  •  When a student shows a pattern of not benefiting from research-based instruction
  •  When a student returns to school after a serious illness or injury
  •  When a student exhibits a chronic health condition
  •  When a student has been identified as having attention deficit disorder (ADD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  •  When substance abuse is an issue—the individual must have stopped using the substance and should either be in rehabilitation or have gone through the rehabilitation process.
  •  When a disability of any kind is known or suspected

School districts are required to establish and implement procedural safeguards that include notice, an opportunity for parents to review relevant records, an impartial hearing with opportunity for participation by the student's parents or guardian, representation by counsel and a review procedure.

Who should I contact if I believe a student may qualify under Section 504?

If you suspect a child may have a qualifying disability under Section 504, contact the appropriate Campus 504 Coordinator.

File a complaint with the appropriate regional Office for Civil Rights:

Office of Civil Rights
U.S. Department of Education
1999 Bryan Street, Suite 1620
Dallas, Texas 75201-6810
Telephone 214-661-9600
Fax 214-661-9587
TDD 877-521-2172


Transition of Students With Disabilities
To Postsecondary Education: A Guide for High School Educators

Students with Disabilities Preparing for Postsecondary Education: Know Your Rights and Responsibilities

Free Appropriate Public Education for Students With Disabilities:
Requirements Under Section 504 of The Rehabilitation Act of 1973

U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights web site
Office of Civil Rights: Frequently Asked Questions
Resource guide for students with disabilities
Scholarship guide for students with disabilities

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