Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities. This law ensures that all students, regardless of ability, are provided the same educational benefits and opportunities. A student is considered "disabled" under Section 504 if the student has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Section 504 ensures that every school-age child receives a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) regardless of the nature or severity of disability and protects students from segregation or exclusion. Students have these rights regardless of whether they qualify for Special Education services.
The process generally starts with a request for a student to be evaluated. These requests can come from the parent/guardian or campus staff. If the request comes from the campus staff, the process cannot continue unless the parent/guardian provides written consent. Within 45 days, the student will be evaluated. This evaluation involves gathering relevant data, such as academic or medical test results, outside evaluations, or teacher observations. With the data gathered, the Section 504 committee will meet to determine if the student qualifies. This committee consists of people who know the student, such as teachers or the school nurse.
The process works like this:
- Referral: A parent/guardian or school staff can request Section 504 protections and/or accommodations.
- Initial Evaluation: Within forty-five days of the written consent, the student will be evaluated for eligibility. The evaluation process involves gathering data and information from various sources. This includes (but is not limited to) medical and/or academic test results, outside evaluations, or observations. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) of 2008, parents/guardians are not required to provide data/information, nor are parents/guardians required to pay for medical or outside evaluation.
- Initial 504 Committee Meeting: Once the evaluation is completed, parents/guardians will be invited to an initial meeting. That invitation should include a copy of the procedural safeguards. If it does not, contact the school and ask for a copy from the principal or campus Section 504 coordinator. This contains information about the process and contact information. The meeting includes discussion of your child’s strengths and challenges, a review of the documentation from the evaluation, and planning services and accommodations for your child.
- Annual Meeting: Once a year parents/guardians will be invited to an annual meeting to ensure that accommodations and/or services are appropriate and to make adjustments if they are not.
- Reevaluation: Every three years, the student will be reevaluated for eligibility. The process is similar to the initial evaluation and a meeting is held to discuss the results.
- Other Committee Meetings: If circumstances change or the accommodations and/or services are not working, the parent and/or campus staff can call a meeting. Examples of these meetings include a change from Section 504 to Special Education services or a change of services and/or accommodations.
- Parent and Educator Resource Guide to Section 504 in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools from the U.S. Department of Education
- Information about Free Appropriate Public Education from the U.S. Department of Education