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 is an "impairment" as used in Section 504?
An impairment, as used under Section 504, may include any disability, long-term illness, or various disorder that “substantially” reduces or lessens a student’s ability to access the educational setting because of a learning, behavior or health related condition. There is no list of eligible or ineligible disabilities; however, examples include: ADHD, dyslexia, cancer, diabetes, severe allergies, chronic asthma, Tourette’s Syndrome, digestive disorders, cardiovascular disorders, depression, conduct disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, HIV/AIDS, behavior disorders, and temporary disorders such as broken limbs.
What is a substantial limitation?
Although not defined in the regulations, OCR has interpreted it to mean “unable to perform a major life activity that the average person in the general population can perform; or restricted as to the condition, manner, or duration under which an individual can perform a major life activity as compared to the condition, manner, or duration under which the average person in the general population can perform that same major life activity.”
Who determines whether a student is "substantially limited?"
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. In Clear Creek ISD, parents are notified of meetings, but are not required members of the committee.
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.
Who is disabled under Section 504?
A qualified individual with a disability under Section 504 is an individual with an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity.
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?
Section 504 is similar to special education in some ways, yet very different in other ways. Section 504 eligibility is broader than special education, in that special education limits eligibility to 13 categories of “disabilities” and requires an educational need for services. Section 504 law does not specify a list of impairments that may qualify a student and requires a substantial limitation to a major life activity, which may or may not be learning. In addition, most services (typically accommodations) that students receive in Section 504 are provided within the classroom by the classroom teacher. Section 504 procedures, paperwork and parental rights are also very different than in special education.
My child’s physician has written a note saying that my child is eligible for accommodations under Section 504. Doesn’t the school district have to follow my 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.
Are annual meetings required under Section 504?
Section 504 regulations do not mention annual meetings. Instead, the regulations refer to periodic re-evaluations, which has frequently been interpreted to mean every three years. Section 504 meetings are also recommended at any time it is suspected that changes to eligibility or services should be considered.
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. In order to receive an accommodation in an advanced class, the student must be eligible to receive the accommodation in a regular class. For example, if the student needs the use of an electronic keyboard in a regular class setting, the student would also be allowed to use an electronic keyboard in an advanced class. Conversely, if a student does not needed additional time to complete tests in a regular class, but needs additional time to complete tests in an advanced class, the student could not receive the accommodation. One other factor to be considered when determining appropriate accommodations is the unique nature of advanced classes. If the accommodation would alter the content or academic standards of the Pre-AP or AP class, it would not be allowable in the advanced class. Reduced assignments would be an example of an alteration of content.
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. If it is a manifestation, the student remains in his or her placement. If the conduct is not a manifestation, the student will receive the same discipline that a non-disabled student would receive. In cases where the student is under the influence of drugs or alcohol at school, the student is not entitled to this manifestation determination.
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. One reason is that 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.
I could not attend a scheduled Section 504 meeting for my child, but the school went ahead and met without me. Is that legal?
While Clear Creek ISD encourages parent participation in Section 504 meetings and should attempt to accommodate parent’s schedules, parents are not required members of the committee.
Does a child need to fail a class or STAAR to be eligible for Section 504?
No. Low class grades and STAAR 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 STAAR scores are an important reflection of learning, but are still not the only factor considered.
My child has a very high IQ but only earns average grades. Isn't that a sign of a disability?
If you are thinking your child has a learning disability, remember that the Section 504 committee would compare your child's ability to learn in relation to the average student, not to your child's own potential. In this case, it sounds like your child would not be eligible under Section 504 unless there is a different major life activity being impaired.
What do I do if I have a complaint about Section 504?
You have several options. We would encourage you to communicate any problems you have with the campus your child attends. Each campus has one or more assistant principals who are responsible for Section 504. If you would prefer, you may also speak with the campus principal. If you are not satisfied with the outcome at the campus level, you may contact the district Section 504 coordinator, Elizabeth Guzman 281-284-0750. She will listen to your concerns, review the situation and offer advice. Parents also have the right to request a hearing before an impartial hearing office. Your notice of rights has more information regarding this. You may also file a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights at 214-661-9600 at any time.
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 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.
Once eligible for Section 504, will my child always be eligible?
Not necessarily. Eligibility must be reestablished at every meeting. In some situations, children are no longer eligible for Section 504 because an injury or illness has been cured. In other cases, a student will learn to compensate for difficulties due to an impairment and no longer meet eligibility requirements. This change in eligibility should be looked at in a positive way, and not looked at as a “bad” thing or a “taking away” of support.
Will my child automatically receive accommodations in college?
Not necessarily. Although most 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.