Understanding Section 504
by Eve Kessler, Esq.
If your child has diagnosed learning disabilities, you’re probably aware that she is eligible for services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004). What you may not realize is that she may also qualify for protection and services under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
What is Section 504?
Section 504 is a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities. It ensures that a student with a disability has equal access to an education and to benefits and services comparable to those given to peers without disabilities.
Who does Section 504 protect?
Section 504 applies to students, employees and the parents of students who attend public schools or any program operated by an organization that receives federal funds.
All students eligible under IDEA are automatically protected under Section 504. However the reverse is not necessarily the case: a child that does not qualify for services under IDEA may still be protected under 504 if she has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity.
For example, a student with ADHD who does not require Special Ed services would not be eligible for IDEA, but may still be entitled to reasonable accommodations under 504 if it’s shown that her disability limits a major life activity.
What are “life activities?”
Major life activities include caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, working and learning (reading, writing, performing math calculations).
It is important for parents of students with IEPs to know that 504 extends beyond IDEA to housing, employment and post-secondary education.
What does 504 Require?
Like IDEA, Section 504 has specific procedural requirements for the identification, evaluation, placement, and safeguards for preschool, elementary and secondary students, and encompasses Child Find, which mandates school systems to identify and locate students with disabilities throughout a community’s school system.
Do 504 students have an IEP?
Students under 504 are not entitled to an Individualized Education Program (IEP). However, a group of people knowledgeable about a 504-eligible student must identify the services or accommodations necessary for her to access an education and, subsequently, develop and implement a written 504 Plan. Like an IEP, a 504 Plan is driven by the needs of the child as identified by formal and informal assessments and evaluations.
This article is based on a webinar by the Advocacy Institute featuring Claudia Lowe, an educational strategist and consultant, and founder and director of The Advocacy & Learning Center (TALC) and Lead Students of America (LSA), and on A Web Guide to the Special Services Partnership, www.spednetwilton.org, published by Special Education Network of Wilton (CT), Ltd.