What is Section 504?
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 §504 is a federal civil rights law protecting the rights of individuals with disabilities. It is commonly called §504 in the school setting. In the school setting, §504 provides accommodations for students with identified eligibilities. §504 is considered a general education program.
Students with 504 eligibility and plans are provided a Free and Appropriate Education (FAPE) and have procedural safeguards under that law. FAPE means their education must be provided with no costs to the parents that are different from any other general education student and meet the student’s needs. The website at the Tennessee Department of Education has a 504 Manual which will provide more information.
WCS is required to make sure every child with a disability is getting an appropriate education. This is known as Child Find.
If someone believes a child is eligible under §504, they would first contact the school’s principal and request a meeting with the school team. Anyone can ask for a school team meeting to help problem solve a concern. This team consists of school and family members who know the student. They meet to discuss the concerns about the student and may write an intervention plan. The plan is implemented and monitored. If it is not being successful, the team may meet back and determine to change the plan, to screen or to make a recommendation to do a comprehensive evaluation of the student.
If the school team recommends a comprehensive evaluation, parents must sign consent for evaluation components that are needed. The §504 Team meets to review the assessment information and determine eligibility. The team consists of persons knowledgeable about the student, the meaning of evaluation data and educational interventions. This team typically consists of parents, the classroom teacher, a school administrator and the school’s 504 coordinator and often a school psychologist and/or school nurse. The additional members could vary depending on the condition and specific student concerns and the assessments used that would need to be interpreted.
Eligibility under §504 has two prongs. The first prong is about identifying if a student has an eligible disability under §504. §504 eligibility says an individual with a disability is anyone who:
- Has a mental or physical impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities. Life activities include activities such as caring for one’s self, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning and eating. This is not an all-inclusive listing, but these are some examples.
- Has a record of such an impairment; or
- Is regarded as having such an impairment.
The second prong of eligibility is there must be a substantial impact on the student in the educational setting. The impact may be made to the student’s academics or social concerns in the school setting.
Some of the conditions that may qualify a student §504 are attention deficit disorders, allergies, asthma, diabetes, emotional disorders, behavior disorders, orthopedic problems, hearing and vision impairments, certain communicable diseases such as HIV/AIDS or tuberculosis and temporary medical conditions due to illness or accident. Since many of the conditions for eligibility are medical, the §504 team will probably need a medical certification document of the medical condition. The evaluation tools used for each individual student may vary depending on the concerns about the student.
The §504 Plan
After the student is deemed §504 eligible, the §504 team meets to develop a plan for that student.
The §504 Plan is designed for each student according to individual need. Students who are disabled under §504 may need accommodations, modifications and related services even though special education services are not needed. The plan also identifies the persons responsible for the implementation of the plan. A plan is written and then reviewed annually. Any member of the team can call a meeting prior to the annual review if there are concerns.