Section 504 Plans
Section 504 is part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, a piece of civil rights and disability legislation that prohibits discrimination based on disability.
What Does Section 504 Actually Say?
From 29 U.S.C. §794(a), 34 C.F.R. §104.4(a):
No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States, as defined in section 706(8) of this title, shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance…
Who Does Section 504 Cover?
In general, Section 504 covers children aged 3 to 22 who have a disability. Here, disability is defined as:
- A person with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity;
- A person who has a record of an impairment; or
- A person who is regarded as having an impairment.
An impairment is any illness, disability or disorder that substantially reduces a child’s ability to learn. Impairments could include, for example, poor hearing or eyesight, which can impact learning.
Why Is Section 504 Important?
Parents of children with one or more disabilities must be advocates on behalf of their children. Knowing a little bit about the law will better prepare them to understand the choices made by their schools, and to challenge those choices when necessary.
Under Section 504, a teacher, parent, doctor or anyone else can refer the child for an evaluation. If the school district believes that the child does indeed have a disability that requires additional services, then it will work to provide those services. If it does not believe that the child qualifies, then it must advise the parents about their legal rights. Each school district is allowed to create its own procedures regarding Section 504.
How Section 504 Can Help Children
Under Section 504, a child will not receive an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). If a child qualifies, he or she can receive accommodations at school—a little extra help to compensate for the disability. Under Section 504, a child is usually kept in the standard classroom instead of being moved to an all-special education classroom. Some accommodations sometimes include:
- Highlighted textbooks
- More time to take tests
- Larger print
- Visual aids
- Modified seating arrangements
- Oral tests
- Behavior intervention planning
What If The School Refuses To Provide Help Under Section 504?
Parents have a private right of action under Section 504, meaning that they can file lawsuits and do not have to wait for the government to act. Parents can claim compensatory damages (damages to compensate for the injury directly), possibly including emotional distress damages. Damages meant to punish the school district (punitive damages) are not allowed.