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Section 504 Protects Civil Rights
"Section 504" refers to the "Civil Rights" section of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (P.L. 93-112). It is a civil rights act that protects the civil and constitutional rights of persons with disabilities. The United States Congress passed this legislation in order to "eliminate discrimination on the basis of one's disabilities in any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance." The rules and regulations of Section 504 went into effect in April 1977 when they were signed by Joseph A. Califano, Jr., then Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW), and applied to all recipients of HEW funds. Schools are "recipients" of Federal funds and therefore are required to avoid discrimination against persons who are otherwise qualified to participate but have some type of disability. The PA Department of Education, state institutions, and county boards of mental retardation also receive Federal funds and must follow these regulations. Section 504 is enforced by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights OCR).
Section 504 provides guidelines for eliminating discrimination and denial of services on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex and disability."
Section 504 prohibits exclusion of "qualified individuals with disabilities" from programs or activities because facilities are inaccessible or unusable.
Section 504 recognizes that many individuals with disabilities need more ACCESSIBILITY to educational programs and services in order to participate in integrated settings. Accessibility refers not only to physical barriers, but also students with disabilities. The intent of Section 504 is to remove the barriers with reasonable accommodations or adjustments so that people with disabilities can participate.
Simply stated, Section 504 requires that public schools provide a free and appropriate education to each qualified person with a disability who is within the school district's jurisdiction.
Key points to remember about Section 504:
- PERSON WITH DISABILITIES. Section 504 defines a "handicapped" person in much broader terms than IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) and requires adequate information collection and appropriate evaluation procedures to determine eligibility.
- EQUAL TREATMENT. Nondiscrimination under 504 does not mean that equal treatment constitutes the "same treatment." Section 504 requires that persons with disabilities be protected by procedures 'which are different from those afforded to persons without disabilities.
- APPROPRIATE EDUCATION. Section 504 requires that the student with a disability is provided regular or special education and related aids and services designed to meet his or her individual educational needs as adequately as the needs of the non-handicapped student are met.
- DENIAL OF ACCESS to any program operated by the agency (including extracurricular and non-academic activities) of an "otherwise qualified" person with a disability is prohibited and the agency may be required to make reasonable accommodations to ensure access (e.g. adaptive devices, distribution of medication, removal of physical barriers).
- SCHOOL DISTRICT'S RESPONSIBILITY REGARDING SECTION 504
Section 504 requires school districts to do the following:
IDENTIFY AND LOCATE qualified students with disabilities residing in the school district and NOTIFY the student's parents or guardians of the opportunity for the student to receive a free and appropriate public education.
EVALUATE any handicap, needs:
accommodation in the regular education classroom,
requires special education,
requires related aids and services.
AFTER THE EVALUATION: utilize a multi-disciplinary team of persons knowledgeable about the student to determine the appropriate placement, and develop an educational plan designed to meet the student's needs as adequately as the needs of non-disabled persons are met.
ELIGIBILITY UNDER SECTION 504
To be eligible for services under Section 504, a person must meet the definition of an individual with a disability under this law. This definition is much broader than that of IDEA. Therefore, students who do not meet the IDEA definition may still be considered as "individuals with disabilities" under Section 504.
Who is a "Qualified Handicapped Individual?"
Under Section 504, a person with disabilities includes anyone who:
has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities. A "major life activity" includes: caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking ,seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, working and learning.
has a record of such impairment. A "record of impairment" means; (i) 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; (2) any mental or psychological disorder, such as mental retardation, organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness, and learning disabilities.
is regarded as having such impairment.
Students who are already identified under IDEA meet the Section 504 definition of an individual with disabilities and are therefore also eligible under Section 504.
However, students who do not meet the criteria for special education under IDEA, may still be "individuals with disabilities" who are protected by 504 and its regulations. For example, students with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) may be covered by Section 504 this disorder "substantially" limits their learning. Or, a student may be identified as "learning disabled" but might not qualify for services under IDEA because he/she fails to meet the "two point" discrepancy score required. However, he/she could be considered a "person with a disability" under Section 504.
Other examples include students with asthma or juvenile arthritis who may not require special education services, but 'would require a modified physical education program, or individuals with communicable diseases, severe allergies, diabetes, behavior disorders, or temporary handicapping conditions.
Students who have exited from special education are eligible for protection under Section 504 because they have a "record" of a disability. A 504 Plan could provide them the support they may need in regular education.
When a disability is suspected, a referral needs to be made and an evaluation completed before special services can begin. If the parent or guardian is making the referral, it is suggested that he/she:
Submit the referral in writing, date the letter, and include the following:
a statement of the suspected disability;
a request for an evaluation to determine the disability;
the date when you expect to the school;
your signature, address, and phone number.
Send copies of the letter to the principal (certified mail), superintendent, special education director, and 504 coordinator.
Keep a copy of this letter in your file.
Sample Letter (below):
(Name of principal)
(Name of school)
(Address of school)
Dear (Name of principal):
I am the parent of (name of student) who is in the _____ grade. I suspect that he/she has a disability which is affecting his/her education. Please consider this my permission to evaluate him/her to see whether he/she has a disability and requires special and related services. Please let me know in writing when the evaluation will be done and contact me for parent input before the evaluation takes place.
Thank you for your help. I look forward to hearing from you within five school days.
(Your phone number)
cc: SuperintendentSpecial Education Director504 Coordinator
The evaluation itself must:
be non-discriminatory testing;
be validated for use;
be given by trained personnel;
be administered according to instructions
assess specific areas of educational need and not simply be an 10 test (assessment should include tests, teacher recommendations, physical condition, social and cultural background, and observations in a variety of settings);
accurately reflect achievement or what the test is measuring; and
include information from a variety of sources.
Section 504 Regulation, 34 CFR Section 104.35 (a) requires school districts to evaluate a person "who because of a disability, needs or is believed to need special education or related services." An evaluation is needed before any "significant" change in placement can occur.
However, Section 504 does not require a school district to carry out a full evaluation simply because a parent requests one, but refusal by the district to do so constitutes an official action regarding the student's evaluation and placement. Therefore, the district must provide the parent with procedural safeguards.
Reprinted from FORUM Volume May/June 1998, XVI, Issue 3, by Ohio Coalition for
the Education of Children with Disabilities, 933 High Street, Suite 106-B,
Worthington, OH, 43085.
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