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Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a civil rights law intended to protect individuals with disabilities from discrimination. Section 504 protects qualifying students by prohibiting these students from being excluded from public schools, or being denied the benefits of the public schools, because of their disability. For more information visit: http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/504faq.html

What is considered a disability under Section 504?

To be considered a disability under Section 504, it must meet BOTH of the following criteria:

  • It must be a physical or mental impairment.  The Department of Education describes “physical or mental impairment” as follows:

  • (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, or specific learning disabilities.  34 CFR 104.3(j)(2)(i).

  • The disabling condition must substantially limit one or more major life activity: A “major life activity” includes (but is not limited to) learning, concentrating, thinking, communicating, reading, walking, seeing, breathing, eating, lifting, bending, and major bodily functions/systems (neurological, immune, respiratory, etc.)

What is a 504 Accommodations Plan?

An Accommodations Plan is the primary mechanism used under 504 to provide equal access to educational services for students with a qualified disability. It is designed to make changes, as appropriate, to the classroom environment or the delivery of instruction to provide the student with equal access to the educational curriculum. This plan is individualized to the needs of the student.

Who should I contact if I suspect my child may have a qualified disability and is in need of a 504 Accommodations Plan?

  • Contact the designated 504 contact or a school administrator at your child’s school. You may also contact the OCS Section 504 Coordinator at 919.245.4006 for further assistance.

  • If your child’s disability substantially limits a major life activity related to learning or classroom performance (i.e., concentrating, learning, thinking), OCS procedures require the district first consider whether there is a basis to consider eligibility for Special Education Services prior to considering eligibility under Section 504.   

If my child has a qualifying disability, will he/she automatically receive a 504 Accommodations Plan?

If your child is found to have a qualifying condition, your child’s 504 team (including yourself and at least one of your child’s teachers) will next determine if an Accommodations Plan is appropriate.  The purpose of the 504 Accommodations Plan is to provide students with a qualifying disability equal access to his or her educational environment, materials, or program. Accommodations will be related to how the disability is currently impacting the student at school.

Not all children with a disabling condition under 504 are in need of a 504 Plan – some disabilities that substantially limit a major life activity may not be impacting a student while at school, may be a condition in remission, or may be currently treated with medication or other health interventions outside of the OCS that improve the symptomology or manifestation of the disability while the child is at school, making a 504 Plan unnecessary.

Accommodations may be changes in the way a student accesses instruction/assessment such as:

  • Specialized equipment and materials (ex: amplification, Braille, large print, assistive technology)

  • Changes in setting for assessments (small group)

  • Scheduling changes (extra time, more frequent breaks)

  • Changes in student response requirements (marks answers in test book, scribe)

  • Facilities accessibility (more frequent restroom use, elevator pass)

What if I suspect my child may be in need of specially designed instruction in order to make appropriate educational progress?

The OCS is obligated to provide a free appropriate public education to qualified students with disabilities.  If you suspect that your child may be in need of specially designed instruction, please notify either the 504 contact, the EC Coordinator, or an administrator at your child’s school.  An IEP meeting will be scheduled to determine if eligibility for Special Education Services is appropriate.  If it is determined that your child is eligible for Special Education Services, specially designed instruction will be provided pursuant to an Individualized Education Plan rather than a 504 Accommodations Plan.

I’ve been told that students who used to have a disability, or students who are regarded has having a disability, also have protections under Section 504. What does this mean?

Students who have a history of having an impairment (as defined above) but do not currently have such an impairment, or students who are regarded by other students or employees in the school district as having a disability (but who do not have a qualifying condition), are protected under Section 504 from disability discrimination.  However, because they do not currently have a disabling condition that substantially limits a major life activity, they are not eligible for a 504 Accommodations Plan.

What if I have questions about Section 504 but I do not know what school my student will attend?

  • Contact the designated 504 contact or a school administrator at your child’s school. You may also contact the OCS Section 504 Coordinator at 919.245.4006 for further assistance.

What if my child is transitioning into a school with a 504 Accommodation Plan?

  • Contact the designated 504 contact or a school administrator at your child’s school.  You may also contact the OCS Section 504 Coordinator at 919.245.4006 for further assistance.

What are my rights as a parent or student under Section 504?