Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a federal law that prohibits discrimination against people with handicaps. Section 504 regulation defines an individual with handicaps as any person who may
- have a mental or physical impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; or
- have a record of such an impairment; or
- be regarded as having such impairment.
The key factor in determining whether a person is considered an “individual with handicaps” covered by Section 504 is whether the physical or mental impairment results in a substantial limitation of one or more of the person’s major life activities (see major life activities). Section 504 provides certain protections to students who may not qualify for special education. In general, Section 504 prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in all programs and activities conducted by recipients of federal financial assistance. Section 504 requires school districts to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to qualified students in their jurisdictions. FAPE refers to the provision of general or special education and related aids and services that are designed to meet individual educational needs of students with disabilities as adequately as the needs of students without disabilities are met and is based upon adherence to procedures that satisfy the Section 504 requirements pertaining to educational setting, evaluation and placement, and procedural safeguards.
Being regarded by someone, for example the child's doctor or parent/guardian, as handicapped/ disabled is not sufficient to trigger the requirements for evaluation. It is the building intervention team's obligation upon receiving this information to determine if there is reason to believe that this child, because of an actual disability, may need general classroom accommodations or special education and related aids and services, and as a result will need to be evaluated. The opinion of the doctor or the parent/guardian is a piece of information to be considered in that decision. While a full evaluation may not be necessary for an appropriate decision to be reached, school staff must obtain and review sufficient and credible information to substantiate their decision.
Any physiological disorder or condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or anatomical loss affecting one or more of the following body systems: neurological; musculoskeletal; special sense organs; respiratory, including speech organs; cardiovascular; reproductive; digestive; genito-urinary; hemic and lymphatic; skin; and endocrine. This definition includes such diseases and conditions as orthopedic, visual, speech and hearing impediments; cerebral palsy; epilepsy; muscular dystrophy; multiple sclerosis; cancer; heart disease; diabetes; attention deficit disorder (ADD); attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD); acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS); and human immune deficiency virus (HIV+). The Amendments Act specified that the ameliorative effects of mitigating measures must not be considered in determining if a person is an individual with a disability. The district must make a Section 504 determination based upon the student’s disability as it presents itself without the mitigating measures.
Temporary disabilities are expressly not covered under the Amendments Act. A student shall not be regarded as having a disability if the disability is transitory and minor. Transitory is defined as an impairment with an actual or expected duration of six (6) months or less.
Major Life Activities
Major life activities, as defined in Section 504 regulations at 34 CFR 104.3(j)(2)(ii) include caring for one's self, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning and working. This list is not exhaustive. Other functions can be major life activities for purposes of Section 504. In the Amendments Act, Congress provided additional examples of general activities that are major life activities, including eating, sleeping, standing, lifting, bending, reading, concentrating, thinking, and communicating. Congress also provided a non-exhaustive list of examples of “major bodily functions” that are major life activities, such as the functions of the immune system, normal cell growth, digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions. The Section 504 regulatory provision, though not as comprehensive as the Amendments Act, is still valid – the Section 504 regulatory provision’s list of examples of major life activities is not exclusive, and an activity or function not specifically listed in the Section 504 regulatory provision can nonetheless be a major life activity. The Amendments Act lists new categories of activities that Congress has deemed to be major life activities. Even though the previous list was non-exhaustive, now the list is just more expansive, giving more specific examples of what is covered. It now lists just about everything and still continues to be non-exhaustive.
504 Accommodation Plan Programming
Most students would benefit from accommodations in the learning environment. A 504 Accommodation Plan is not meant for every single child who may be identified as having an impairment. Instead, it is meant for those who have an impairment that substantially impacts their lives in school. A 504 Accommodation Plan is necessary when a child’s needs are not being met by the classroom teacher. A 504 Accommodation Plan is not required for a teacher to provide an accommodation because great teachers provide accommodations for their students through differentiation and individualization. A 504 Accommodation Plan is not special education. A student who has a 504 is still with his or her peers the entire day with no access to special education. The person most responsible for following a 504 Accommodation Plan is the classroom teacher.
504 Accommodation Plan Procedures
If a parent is concerned about their child’s progress in the classroom and feels that it may be due to an impairment, the parent should contact the classroom teacher. The parent and classroom teacher can decide, together, the needs of the child. If both parent and teacher feel that a 504 Accommodation Plan may be warranted they should contact the Director of Special Education and Student Services or the building’s school psychologist for a 504 Accommodation Plan Referral Form. Following the referral, a team will review the referral and determine if an evaluation should take place. In light of Response to Intervention, often a child will have an intervention prior to an evaluation. This is a case-by-case decision.
A parent must give written consent for an evaluation. An evaluation often includes observations. It may also include rating scales or achievement testing. The parent will also have to provide the school with evidence of impairment from a physician.
Following the evaluation and data collection, a meeting will be held. The parent will be invited to attend the meeting. At that point an eligibility determination is made. The team makes a subjective determination as to whether the student has a mental or physical impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. If the team makes this determination, a 504 Accommodation Plan is developed. The 504 Accommodation Plan will then be reviewed annually or more frequently upon teacher or parent request.
If the team finds that a 504 Accommodation Plan is not warranted, then further discussion will occur regarding next steps to meet the student’s needs.
If you have any questions regarding 504 Accommodation Plans, please contact the Director of Student Services, at 715-796-4500 x 3376 or call your child’s school building and ask for the School Psychologist.