Some students with learning disabilities that do not receive services under the IDEA may still be protected under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities.
School districts have treated Section 504 with greater flexibility than IDEA, thereby opening the door for knowledgeable parents to apply these protections to their child’s educational needs.
Making the Case
Eligibility for Section 504 requires a student to have a substantial impairment that materially impacts his ability to perform a major life activity (e.g. walking, hearing, speaking, learning, etc.).
Making the case for eligibility begins with gathering data from a variety of sources and providing your child’s school team with as much information as possible to confirm that his disability substantially limits one or more major life activities.
To do that you’ll need to comb through schoolwork and homework, looking for examples that support your case. In addition, request and analyze your child’s school records, and use information from assessments, evaluations and anything else in his files (including quotes from various teachers) to establish his present level of performance and support his need for an appropriate education.
Address organizational or social/emotional challenges, including how he develops relationships, keeps friends, and works and plays in group settings. Allow your child to speak for himself and articulate how he learns best.
If your child is found eligible, the team must identify specific, individual needs and assess the particular provisions he requires to access the curriculum and benefit from the school program. These may include related aids, supports and services, assistive technology, and accommodations and modifications. For example, if your child can listen but cannot take notes and forgets to hand in her homework, discuss what strategies would be helpful and how they can be implemented successfully.
Your child’s educational placement, in academic and non-academic settings, must be in the least restrictive environment (LRE)—with non-disabled peers—to the maximum extent appropriate. This includes the time spent in extracurricular services and activities, such as during meals, recess, physical education, and field trips.
Make your expectations for your child clear to the team, and schedule follow-up team meetings to track his progress. Implementation of the 504 Plan is essential: no amount of preparation can replace a teacher’s willingness and ability to modify a student’s curriculum and learning environment in accordance with his plan.
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 on A Web Guide to the Special Services Partnership, www.spednetwilton.org SPED*NET, Special Education Network of Wilton (CT). Eve Kessler, a criminal attorney, is the co-founder of SPED*NET, and a Contributing Editor for Smart Kids with Learning Disabilities.