Section 504

Section 504 is a civil rights mandate that prohibits discrimination. It requires "equal opportunity," not equal results. 

Primary responsibility for compliance with Section 504 generally falls on regular education and administrative leaders. Special educators usually do NOT have primary responsibility for Section 504. The responsibility not to discriminate applies to all school personnel.


Eligibility


Who is protected under Section 504?


The answer to this question is "qualified individuals with a disability." 
This means any person who:
  • Has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities
  • Has a record of such an impairment, or 
  • Is regarded as having such an impairment.
Legal commentary surrounding Section 504 indicates that schools should operate with "broad eligibility." Per Questions and Answers on the ADA Amendments Act of 2008, Office for Civil Rights:

"In most cases, application of these rules should quickly shift the inquiry away from the question of whether a student has a disability and toward the school district’s actions and obligations to ensure equal educational opportunities..."

"
While there are no per se disabilities under Section 504, the nature of many impairments is such that, in virtually every case, a determination in favor of disability will be made…"

"
A school district should not require extensive documentation to determine that a child with diabetes, epilepsy, bipolar disorder, or autism has a disability under Section 504 and Title II.” 

 

Note that some students with disabilities are eligible under Section 504 but NOT entitled to a Section 504 plan:

  • If a student is Section 504-eligible, they are entitled to equal opportunity and protection from discrimination, as well as evaluation, placement, notice, and procedural safeguards.
  • A student is entitled to a 504 plan if regular or special education and related aids and services are necessary to provide them with an equal opportunity.

Section 504 Evaluation Process


Anyone concerned about the need for a 504 evaluation can suggest the need for an evaluation. While it is common for parents to initiate the evaluation process, the school has a legal Child Find obligation, meaning that school staff are obligated to find children with mental or physical impairments who may benefit from a 504 plan and 504 protections.

Referrals can be received verbally or in writing. Evaluations must be "timely." Because a specific timeline is not defined in Section 504, schools typically look to IDEA for a guideline and operate with a 30 school day timeline (from the date the parent consents to the evaluation).

Formal tests are not required when determining 504 eligibility. Schools must use information from a variety of sources (e.g., review of school/medical records; reports from/interviews with parents, teachers, etc.; observations) and ensure that all information is documented and carefully considered.

Note: If student was evaluated for special education and did not qualify, the evaluation data could be used to fulfill the evaluation requirement and address 504 eligibility.


Section 504 Evaluation Paperwork

Developing Section 504 Plans


Process


Once the team determines that a student is eligible for a Section 504 plan, the team (led by the Section 504 coordinator) should:

  1. Develop a Section 504 plan: Using data from the evaluation, input from the 504 team and other data available, create a plan that will allow for a FAPE.
  2. Provide notice: Ensure parents are provided notice regarding the specific accommodations, modifications and services outlined in the 504 plan.
  3. Obtain parental consent: While written parental consent isn’t expressly required, it is best practice to seek parental consent before implementing a 504 Plan.
  4. Implement the 504 plan: Share the plan with all stakeholders (teachers, service providers, etc.) and ensure the plan is implemented with fidelity.

Plan Components


A Section 504 plan should address the following five components:
  1. The nature of the student's disability and the major life activity it limits.
  2. The basis for determining the disability.
  3. The educational impact of the disability. The multidisciplinary team must describe how the disability affects the child's educational performance so proper accommodations can be prescribed.
  4. The regular or special education and related aids, services and accommodations that are required to meet the student’s needs.
  5. Placement in the student's Least Restrictive Environment (LRE).

Plan Content


A student with a disability is entitled to the regular or special education and related aids and services that are designed to meet the student’s individual educational needs as adequately as those of non-disabled students are met. 34 C.F.R. § 104.1 et seq.
  • 504 Plans are not limited to accommodations.
  • 504 Plans must be individualized for the student.
  • Plans should be written down and disseminated to every individual who works with the student.
  • 504 Plans must provide FAPE.
  • If the student qualifies under IDEA, the IEP meets the requirements of Section 504.
A 504 plan is based on the student’s individual needs. There are no limits as to what can be on a student’s 504 plan. It can include specialized instruction, accommodations, modification to policies, etc.

Examples: physical modifications, provision of health-related services during the school day, instructional supports, modified curriculum, homebound instruction, tutoring, a one-to-one aide, a behavior support plan, specialized transportation, modified attendance policy, instruction in a special education classroom.

Don't restrict the plan to only academics. 504 Plans should include services or modifications to be provided in non-academic and extracurricular activities, including athletics.



Clarity is Key

The contents of the 504 plan (including services, accommodations, modifications, etc. that will be provided to or on behalf of the student) must be clearly and specifically described.
Statements must include:
  • WHAT - the specific modification or support needed
  • WHEN - the conditions that trigger the modification or support
  • WHERE - the environment(s) in which the modification or support is needed
  • WHO is responsible for implementing the modification or support
Avoid ambiguity. Using phrases such as “as needed,” “may need,” “when necessary,” “and/or," or referring vaguely to “reasonable accommodations” is not acceptable. Check out a few examples below:

Noncompliant Compliant
Anita may need special supplies in order to participate in classes requiring writing. Anita's 504 case manager will provide each of her general education teachers with raised line paper for her to use when completing all assignments requiring writing.
Carrie may access the resource room when taking tests in general education classes. Carrie will take science, reading, and math tests in the resource room to minimize distractions and reduce anxious behaviors that she displays when testing in a large group environment. 
Tyrone will be allowed a copy of teachers' notes as needed. Tyrone will receive a copy of teachers' notes for reading and math classes to aid him in acquiring all information in a format that is legible for studying.

Ongoing 504 Plan Review Process


Review of Student Progress


The 504 Team will monitor the progress of the student and the effectiveness of the student’s 504 plan:
  • Are the major life activities limited by the disability supported?
  • Are the student’s needs being met as adequately as the needs of non-disabled students?
  • Is the student making progress (i.e., grades, attendance, behavior, etc.)?
Recommendation: Develop a system to review and document student progress in accordance with the frequency of report cards (e.g., quarterly, by trimester, etc.).
Key Resource: 504 Plan Progress Monitoring Template


Review and Revise 504 Plan

This must occur no less than annually (i.e., at least once a year). Are the student’s needs being met as adequately as those of non-disabled peers?


Comprehensive Reevaluation

Re-evaluations should occur every three years in order to capture and address a student’s changing needs. Re-evaluation MUST occur before a significant change in placement. Consider “total student” and use objective data from multiple sources.


Additional Processes/Paperwork

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