What is Section 504?
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, 29 U.S.C. §794 (Section 504) is a federal law prohibiting the discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Under Section 504, schools are required to provide a "free appropriate public education" (FAPE) to each qualified student with a disability within the district's jurisdiction.
What is "free appropriate public education" (FAPE)?
"Free" refers to the provision of education and related services to a person with a disability, without cost, except for fees equally imposed on nondisabled persons.
"Appropriate" education refers to educational services designed to meet the individual education needs of students with disabilities as adequately as the needs of nondisabled students are met; the education of each student with a disability with nondisabled students, to the maximum extent appropriate to the needs of the student with the disability; evaluation and placement procedures established to guard against misclassification or inappropriate placement of students, and a periodic reevaluation of students who have been provided special education or related services; and the establishment of due process procedures that enable parents/guardians to receive required notices, review their child's records, and challenge identification, evaluation, and placement decisions.
What is the difference between eligibility for IDEA and Section 504?
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is an education act that identifies children ages 3-21 who need special education and related services. The children are determined to be eligible within one or more of 13 specific disability categories and require specially designed instruction in order to access the curriculum. Students eligible under IDEA have a documented Individualized Education Plan (IEP).
Section 504 is a civil rights law that protects persons with a disability from discrimination. In the education setting, accommodations are provided in order to assist the student in accessing the regular education curriculum. Accommodations, modifications, and related services are documented in a Section 504 Plan. If a student with a disability requires specialized instruction, as opposed to accommodations and modifications, that student should be referred for evaluation for an IEP (above).
What is the process for a referral, evaluation, and placement under Section 504?
A referral or request for Section 504 can be made by a parent, guardian, teacher, counselor, related service provider, administrator, community agency, and/or a team of such individuals. When a referral or request is received by the school level Section 504 Coordinator, a team is convened to collect the appropriate and necessary documentation in order to make an informed decision regarding student eligibility under Section 504.
If the team decides that an evaluation is required in order to determine eligibility, the team will then define what components the evaulation will involve. Evaluations may include teacher reports, academic ratings (grades), standardized test scores, educational and/or psychological testing, and medical documentation. This list is not exhaustive and the appropriate evaulation needs should be decided on an individual student basis.
When educational or psychological testing is performed as part of the evaluation process under Section 504, the tests and evaluation materials must have been validated for the specific purpose for which they are being administered. Such tests and materials must be administered and interpreted by trained personnel.
Once the evaluation components have been completed, the multidisciplinary team will reconvene to carefully consider all information in order to determine eligibility. The Section 504 regulatory provision at 34 C.F.R. 104.35 (c) (3) requires that school districts ensure that the determination of eligibility and related aids or services be made by a group of persons, including persons knowledgeable about the chid, the meaning of the evaluation data, and the placement options. The team will consider both whether the student has a disability as defined by Section 504 and whether that disability requires a written plan of accommodations/modifications/related services.
What criteria are used to determine a student's eligibility under Section 504?
To be eligible as a student with a disability under Section 504, a student must be determined to have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.
- A physical or mental impairment is a physiological disorder or condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or anatomical loss affecting one or more body systems. It can be a mental or psychological disorder.
- Substantial limitation is determined on an individual student basis by a multidisciplinary team.
- A major life activity includes functions such as caring for one's self, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, working, eating, sleeping, standing, lifting, bending. reading, concentrating, thinking, and communicating, although this list is not exhaustive.
A medical diagnosis and/or the presence of an impairment do not solely qualify a student under Section 504. Multi-disciplinary teams must draw from a variety of sources in the evaluation process in order to determine student eligibility.
What is the review process for Section 504 placement and services?
Under Section 504, accommodation plans and eligibility should be scheduled for periodic re-evaluation.
In Brunswick County Schools, a review team consisting of a group of individuals that may include the parent, guardian, teacher, counselor, related service provider, administrator, community agency, and/or other suitable staff members will review the Section 504 Plan annually for appropriate accommodations and compliance. During the annual review, accommodations, modifications, and related services may be added, removed, or modified based on collected data.
In Brunswick County Schools, the review team will complete a re-evaluation of the student's eligibility under Section 504 on a three year cycle. Re-evaluations should also be conducted prior to a significant change of placement. During the re-evaluation process, the team may collect current teacher reports, academic ratings (grades), standardized test scores, attendance information, discipline reports, educational and/or psychological testing, and updated medical documentation. As with the initial evaluation, this list is not exhaustive and the necessary evaluation components will be defined by the team on an individual student basis. The team may also determine that continued eligibility can be confirmed based on currently available data, without the need for additional testing.
In Brunswick County Schools, the review teams may meet more frequently than once a year. Parents seeking a 504 review meeting should contact the school level Section 504 Coordinator. If a student is no longer eligible or no longer requires a plan under Section 504, the review team will make the decision to terminate the plan.
Who should parent contact when they have a Section 504 complaint?
When a concern or complaint related to a Section 504 Plan or Section 504 service develops, it is suggested that the parent/guardian contact the school level Section 504 Coordinator. The first step in resolving a complaint should involve notification of the appropriate school level staff in order for possible solutions to be discussed.
If the complaint cannot be resolved through informal discussion or meeting with the school level Section 504 Coordinator, a parent may file a Section 504 Grievance by providing the complaint in writing to the School Principal. The Section 504 Grievance Procedure is provided in the "Department Documents" section below. The Section 504 Grievance Procedure includes the right to appeal to an impartial hearing before an independent hearing officer.
Complaints about discrimination or harassmet based on disability should be made using the procedure in Board Policy 1720 Discrimination, Harassment, and Bullying Complaint Procedure.
School District Responsibilities
- Locate, identify, and notify all students living within the district who may have a disability.
- Provide a free, appropriate public education to each qualified student with a disability living within the district.
- Deliver an appropriate education through the provision of accommodations, modifications, and/or related services that are designed to meet the educational needs of student with a disability as adequately as the needs of a nondisabled student.
- Ensure access to and participation in school activities and services to each student with a disability, to the maximum extent appropriate to the needs of the student with a disability, with nondisabled students.
- Provide non-academic and extracurricular activities and activities in such a manner as is necessary to afford each student with a disability an equal opportunity for participation.
- Establish standards and procedures regarding identification, evaluation, and educational placement of a student with a disability who needs or is believed to need special instruction or related services.
- Establish a system of procedural safeguards that includes notice, an opportunity for the parent/guadian to examine relevant records, and impartial hearing that provides the parent/guardian an opportunity for participation and representation by counsel, and a review procedure.
Parent and Student Rights
You have the right to:
- Have your child take part in, and receive benefits from public education programs without discrimination because of his/her disabling conditions;
- Have the school district advise you of your rights under federal law;
- Receive notice and examine all relevant records relating to decisions regarding your child's identification, evaluation, and placement;
- Have evaluation, educational, and placement decisions made based upon a variety of information sources, and by persons who know the student, the evaluation data, and placement options;
- Be included in decisions or actions regarding your child's identification, evaluation, programming, or placement;
- Have the 504 Plan revised periodically, if one is developed, and have the plan periodically re-evaluated before any significant change is made in your child's placement, educational program or educational placement;
- Inspect and review all of your child's educational records, including the right to obtain copies at a reasonable cost. You will not be charged for a copy of your child's record if the cost would prevent you from inspecting and reviewing the records;
- A response from the school district to reasonable interpretations of your child's records;
- Request an amendment to the record if you believe information contained in the record is inaccurate or misleading or violates your chid's privacy or other rights. If the school system refuses to amend the record, you have the right to request a hearing and/or to place in the record a statement of why you disagree with the information it contains;
- File a local complaint. Complaints of harassment or discrimination related to a disability can be filed using the procedure contained in Board Policy 1720. Complaints regarding a child's identification, evaluation, or the contents or implementation of the child's Section 504 Plan can be filed using the Section 504 Grievance Procedure found in the "Department Documents" section below.
- Request an impartial due process hearing related to decisions or actions regarding your child's identification, evaluation, educational program or placement if not resolved by the complaint procedures list above. You and the student may take part in the hearing and have an attorney represent you.