Section 504 prohibits discrimination against disabled persons, including both students and staff members, by school districts receiving federal, financial assistance. Included in the U.S. Department of Education regulations for Section 504 is the requirement that disabled students be provided with free appropriate public education (FAPE). These regulations require identification, evaluation, the provisions of appropriate services and procedural safeguards.
With respect to most disabled students, many aspects of Section 504 regulations concerning FAPE parallel the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). In those areas, by fulfilling responsibilities under IDEA and state law a district is also meeting the standards of the Section 504 regulations.
The IDEA defines as eligible only students who have certain specified types of impairments and who, because of one of those conditions, need special education. Section 504, on the other hand, protects all disabled students, defined as those having any physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities (including learning). Section 504 covers all students who meet this definition, even if they do not qualify under IDEA as needing a special education program.
The determination of what services are needed must be made by a group of persons knowledgeable about the student. The group should review the nature of the disability, how it affects the students education, whether special services are needed and if so what those services are. The decision about Section 504 eligibility and services must be documented in the student’s file and reviewed periodically.
In summary, it is important to keep in mind that some students who have a physical or mental condition that limits their ability to participate in the education program are entitled to rights under Section 504 even though they may not fall into IDEA categories and may not be covered by the law.
If you have questions regarding Section 504 please contact Thomas Lish-Brown, Director of Special Education and the districts Section 504 Compliance Coordinator.