Section 504 is the part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that guarantees specific rights in federally funded programs and activities to people who qualify as disabled.

Section 504 states: “No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States… 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…”

Section 504 is enforced by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR).  OCR can be contacted by calling (303) 844-5695.

The School District is responsible for the implementation of Section 504. For more information contact the Section 504/ADA Coordinator for your District.

Under Section 504, a grievance may be filed with the School District or a complaint may be filed with the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights.

What is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity?

The Section 504 regulatory provision  at 34 C.F.R. 104.3(j)(2)(i) defines a physical or mental impairment as 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; or any mental or psychological disorder, such as mental retardation, organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness, and specific learning disabilities. The regulatory provision does not set forth an exhaustive list of specific diseases and conditions that may constitute physical or mental impairments because of the difficulty of ensuring the comprehensiveness of such a list.

Major life activities, as defined in the Section 504 regulations at 34 C.F.R. 104.3(j)(2)(ii), include functions such as 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 (see FAQ 1), 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 provisions 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.

What is an appropriate evaluation under Section 504?

Recipient school districts must establish standards and procedures for initial evaluations and periodic re-evaluations of students who need or are believed to need special education and/or related services because of disability. The Section 504 regulatory provision at 34 C.F.R. 104.35(b) requires school districts to individually evaluate a student before classifying the student as having a disability or providing the student with special education. Tests used for this purpose must be selected and administered so as best to ensure that the test results accurately reflect the student’s aptitude or achievement or other factor being measured rather than reflect the student’s disability, except where those are the factors being measured. Section 504 also requires that tests and other evaluation materials include those tailored to evaluate the specific areas of educational need and not merely those designed to provide a single intelligence quotient. The tests and other evaluation materials must be validated for the specific purpose for which they are used and appropriately administered by trained personnel.

Are there any impairments which automatically mean that a student has a disability under Section 504?

No. An impairment in and of itself is not a disability. The impairment must substantially limit one or more major life activities in order to be considered a disability under Section 504.

Can a medical diagnosis suffice as an evaluation for the purpose of providing FAPE?

No. A physician’s medical diagnosis may be considered among other sources in evaluating a student with an impairment or believed to have an impairment which substantially limits a major life activity. Other sources to be considered, along with the medical diagnosis, include aptitude and achievement tests, teacher recommendations, physical condition, social and cultural background, and adaptive behavior.  As noted in FAQ 22, the Section 504 regulations require school districts to draw upon a variety of sources in interpreting evaluation data and making placement decisions.

Does a medical diagnosis of an illness automatically mean a student can receive services under Section 504?

No. A medical diagnosis of an illness does not automatically mean a student can receive services under Section 504. The illness must cause a substantial limitation on the student’s ability to learn or another major life activity. For example, a student who has a physical or mental impairment would not be considered a student in need of services under Section 504 if the impairment does not in any way limit the student’s ability to learn or other major life activity, or only results in some minor limitation in that regard.

Once a student is identified as eligible for services under Section 504, is there an annual or triennial review requirement? If so, what is the appropriate process to be used? Or is it appropriate to keep the same Section 504 plan in place indefinitely after a student has been identified?

Periodic re-evaluation is required. This may be conducted in accordance with the IDEA regulations, which require re-evaluation at three-year intervals (unless the parent and public agency agree that re-evaluation is unnecessary) or more frequently if conditions warrant, or if the child’s parent or teacher requests a re-evaluation, but not more than once a year (unless the parent and public agency agree otherwise).

Is a Section 504 re-evaluation similar to an IDEA re-evaluation? How often should it be done?

Yes. Section 504 specifies that re-evaluations in accordance with the IDEA is one means of compliance with Section 504. The Section 504 regulations require that re-evaluations be conducted periodically. Section 504 also requires a school district to conduct a re-evaluation prior to a significant change of placement. OCR considers an exclusion from the educational program of more than 10 school days a significant change of placement. OCR would also consider transferring a student from one type of program to another or terminating or significantly reducing a related service a significant change in placement.

What is reasonable justification for referring a student for evaluation for services under Section 504?

School districts may always use regular education intervention strategies to assist students with difficulties in school. Section 504 requires recipient school districts to refer a student for an evaluation for possible special education or related aids and services or modification to regular education if the student, because of disability, needs or is believed to need such services.

What are the responsibilities of regular education teachers with respect to implementation of Section 504 plans? What are the consequences if the district fails to implement the plans?

Regular education teachers must implement the provisions of Section 504 plans when those plans govern the teachers’ treatment of students for whom they are responsible. If the teachers fail to implement the plans, such failure can cause the school district to be in noncompliance with Section 504.

What is the difference between an IEP and a 504 Plan?

Both students with IEPs and students with 504 plans have a documented disability or impairment. For students with an IEP, their disability has a significant educational impact, and requires the provision of direct specialized instruction, in addition to supplementary aids and services. Students with 504 plans have a documented impairment which substantially limits their ability to perform a major life activity. The major life activity may or may not be directly related to learning (i.e., a physical impairment that impacts mobility, but not learning). Students with 504 plans require targeted accommodations so they are able to access their educational program in the same manner their non-disabled peers do. Both processes require an evaluation by a duly constituted problem solving team.

RESOURCES

Section 504 Parent Rights

IDEA vs 504

Comprehensive Question and Answer Page (OCR)