What is Section 504?
Part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Section 504 is a civil rights law to protect disabled individuals from discrimination.
What does it mean to be “otherwise qualified?”
For an individual to be covered under Section 504, the student must be otherwise qualified, meaning that a student with a disability must be qualified to do something before the presence of a disability can be a factor in discrimination. Therefore, if a student wants to participate in some activity, but the individual is not otherwise qualified for that activity, not allowing the person to participate would not be considered discrimination. For example, a 12 year old middle school boy with ADHD or asthma tries out for the basketball team, but is unable to pass, shoot or dribble. The coach will probably not allow the boy to be on the team. This would not be considered discrimination under Section 504 because the boy was not otherwise qualified to be on the team.
What are my rights as a parent under Section 504?
As a parent or legal guardian, you have the right to:
1. Parent is entitled to notice of §504 Procedural Safeguards including:
A. Notice of the time and place for initial/ reevaluation meetings.
B. The right to examine the student’s records.
C. The right to an impartial hearing.
D. Written notice of the District’s refusal to evaluate a student or to provide specific aids and services the parents have requested.
2. Parent may refuse consent for initial evaluation under §504.3. Parent may refuse services provided under §504.4. Parent may not revoke eligibility under §504.
What do I do if I suspect my child has a disability?
First and foremost, discuss your concerns with your child’s classroom teacher. He or she may be able to reassure you that your child is making appropriate progress. If you continue to be concerned about your child’s progress, contact your child’s campus Section 504 Coordinator in writing, expressing your concerns.
What is the difference between an impairment and a disability?
Many people have impairments. An impairment is only considered a disability under Section 504 when it reaches the level that it is substantially limiting a major life activity and preventing the student from accessing their education.
Who determines whether a student is meet eligibility under Section 504?
According to the federal regulations: “...placement decisions are to be made by a group of persons who are knowledgeable about the child, the meaning of the evaluation data, placement options, least restrictive environment requirements, and comparable facilities” [34 C.F.R. §104.35(c)(3)]. Unlike Special Education, the federal regulations for Section 504 do not require or even mention that parents are to be a part of the decision-making committee.
What is an "impairment" as used in Section 504?
Physical or mental impairment means (A) 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 (B) any mental or psychological disorder, such as mental retardation, organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness, and specific learning disabilities. 34 C.F.R.104.3(j)(2)(i)
Include impairments that are episodic, in remission, or mitigated. Temporary impairments are not included unless severity creates substantial limitation for extended periods.
What is a substantial limitation?
Substantial limitation means that an impairment limits one major life activity and need not limit other major life activities in order to be considered a disability. Impairments that are episodic or in remission are considered a disability if they would substantially limit a major life activity when active. The determination of whether an impairment substantially limits a major life activity shall be made without regard to the ameliorative effects of mitigating measures such as: medication, medical supplies, equipment, or appliances, low-vision devices (which do not include ordinary eyeglasses or contact lenses), prosthetics including limbs and devices, hearing aids and cochlear implants or other implantable hearing devices, mobility devices, or oxygen therapy equipment and supplies, use of assistive technology; reasonable accommodations or auxiliary aids or services; or learned behavioral or adaptive neurological modifications.
*The ameliorative effects of the mitigating measures of ordinary eyeglasses or contact lenses shall be considered in determining whether an impairment substantially limits a major life activity.
* Temporary impairments are not included unless severity creates substantial limitation for extended periods.
What is a major life activity?
A major life activity is an activity that is of central importance to the daily life activity of the average person in the general population. Major life activities include, but are not limited to, caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating and working. It also includes the operation of a major bodily function.
Are there any impairments that automatically qualify someone for Section 504?
No, each decision on eligibility is made on an individual basis.
How is Section 504 different than special education?
The definition of disability under Section 504 is much broader than the categorical definitions under IDEA. Section 504, because it is a discrimination law, also protects all special education students.
The child’s physician has written a note saying that the student is eligible for accommodations under Section 504, does the school district have to follow the doctor’s orders?
Section 504 committees must consider information from a variety of sources, including medical information provided by a physician. However, a doctor’s note alone cannot be the basis of eligibility for Section 504.
Can my child receive accommodations in advance level courses such as Pre-AP and AP classes?
Students with disabilities are allowed the same opportunity to participate in Pre-AP and AP classes as their non-disabled peers. Accommodations are given to allow a student to gain access, but not to gain an unfair advantage or alter the fundamental nature of the program.
Can my child be disciplined if he or she is eligible for Section 504?
Students eligible for Section 504 may still be disciplined in the same manner as their peers, unless the discipline becomes a significant change in placement. A significant change in placement is when the student is suspended or expelled for more than 10 days. In this case a Section 504 committee must determine whether the student's conduct is a manifestation, or caused by, the identified disability. In cases where the student’s discipline is because the student was under the influence or possession of drugs or alcohol, the student is not entitled to a manifestation determination and will be disciplined to the same degree as their non-disabled peers.
The campus wants my teenage child to attend his Section 504 meeting, but I am worried he will be uncomfortable talking about his disability. Why should he attend the meeting?
It is very important for students to attend their Section 504 meeting, especially at the high school level. Your child will be responsible for seeking out services in college or employment, if necessary, and will need to be able to discuss his disability, how it impacts his ability to do things, and what does and does not help him. In addition, your child’s input to the effectiveness and his willingness to use specific accommodations is very important to the Section 504 committee. While the ultimate decision is yours (until the child is 18), we strongly encourage you to allow your child to participate.
Does a child need to fail a class or state assessment to be eligible for Section 504?
No. Low class grades and poor state assessments scores may indicate a substantial limitation in the area of learning, but Section 504 covers other major life activities as well. For instance, if a child has a hearing impairment, the Section 504 committee would focus on how the child's hearing is compared to other children of the same age or grade. However, if a learning disability is suspected, the Section 504 committee would focus on how the child's learning is affected. Grades and state assessments scores are an important reflection of learning, but are still not the only factor considered.
What do I do if I have a complaint about Section 504?
You have several options. First and foremost we would encourage you to communicate any problems you have with the campus your child attends. Each campus has an assigned campus Section 504 Coordinator. If you are not satisfied with the outcome at the campus level, you may contact the district Section 504 coordinator, Anna Draker at 210-397-8741. Parents also have the right to request a hearing before an impartial hearing office. Your notice of rights has more information regarding this.
Will my child automatically receive accommodations on college entrance exams?
Not necessarily. Remember, you must apply through the organization that provides the testing well in advance of registration deadlines. The school testing coordinator or their assigned counselor can assist you and your child, but you must initiate the process. In addition, testing organizations have very strict requirements regarding the diagnosis of the disability. It is not uncommon for the documentation that is required by the school for Section 504 eligibility to be different than the documentation that the testing organization requires. The school district is not required to pay for or provide this testing unless it is necessary in order to provide services in the classroom, therefore you may be required to obtain additional testing at your own expense. For specific information on the process and requirements, visit the links to the College Board website and ACT website in the "Helpful Links" section of this website.
Will my child automatically receive accommodations in college?
Not necessarily. Although colleges must comply with Section 504 and the ADA, there are several differences in eligibility and services that a student may receive. It is important to be aware that the bulk of responsibility is on the student at the college level, so self-advocacy is an important skill for your child to learn before he or she leaves high school. One difference is in what is called "child find". Public schools are required to locate and identify students who have disabilities. In contrast, at the college level, students with disabilities are required to approach the college to request accommodations. In addition, any testing required to substantiate the disability must be provided by the student at student expense. After receiving notification of disability, the college reviews any information provided and determines what accommodations the student will receive. Accommodations are usually less extensive than those on a high school Section 504 plan. Typical accommodations found at college are the opportunity to register early, maintain a reduced course load or time extensions on tests. It would be rare to receive accommodations such as time extensions on assignments, no penalty for spelling errors or notification of missing assignments. Due to the differences in the process to obtain accommodations and available services among colleges, it is important to investigate each college your child is interested in attending early in the college application process.