Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
A civil rights law to prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability in programs and activities, public and private, that receive federal financial assistance.
WHO IS PROTECTED
Any person who (1) has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, (2) has a record of such an impairment, or (3) is regarded as having such an impairment. Major life activities include walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, working, caring for oneself, and performing manual tasks.
RESPONSIBILITY TO PROVIDE A FREE, APPROPRIATE PUBLIC EDUCATION (FAPE)
An “appropriate” education means an education comparable to that provided to students without disabilities. This may be defined as regular or special education services. Students can receive related services under Section 504 even if they are not provided any special education. Section 504 does require development of a plan, although this written document is not mandated. The Individualized Education Program (IEP) of IDEA may be used for the Section 504 written plan. Many experts recommend that a group of persons knowledgeable about the student convene and specify the agreed-upon services.
FUNDING TO IMPLEMENT REQUIREMENT
State and local jurisdictions have responsibility. IDEA funds may not be used to serve children found eligible only under Section 504.
Section 504 requires notice to parents regarding identification, evaluation, and/or placement. Written notice is recommended. Notice must be made only before a “significant change” in placement. Following IDEA procedural safeguards is one way to meet Section 504 mandates.
Unlike IDEA, Section 504 requires only notice, not consent, for evaluation. It is recommended that districts obtain parental consent.
Like IDEA, evaluation and placement procedures under Section 504 require that information be obtained from a variety of sources in the area of concern; that all data are documented and considered; and that decisions are made by a group of persons knowledgeable about the student, evaluation data, and placement options. Section 504 requires periodic reevaluations, but does not specify any timelines for placement. Section 504 requires that students be educated with their nondisabled peers to the maximum extent appropriate. Section 504 does not require a meeting or any change in placement.
Section 504 requires local education agencies to provide impartial hearings for parents who disagree with the identification, evaluation, or placement of a student. It requires that parents have an opportunity to participate in the hearing process and to be represented by counsel. Beyond this, due process details are left to the discretion of the local education agency. It is recommended that districts develop policy guidance and procedures.