Section 504

Supporting Students With Disabilities

 

Section 504 of the Federal Vocational and Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a law that protects the rights of individual with disabilities in programs and activities that receive federal funding. Students may qualify for services under Section 504 but may not necessarily qualify for services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or IDEA. Section 504 is a civil rights law that protects the rights of individuals with disabilities.

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Section 504 requires that: “No other qualified individual with a handicap in the United States…shall, solely by reason of his or her handicap, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subject to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance” (29 USC 794, 34 CFR 104.1).

Section 504 is a civil rights law that protects the rights of individuals with disabilities.  It is a protection from discrimination, which provides for an appropriate education in the least restrictive environment based on the student’s unique needs.  It prohibits denial of participation in public education, or the benefits offered by school programs because of a student’s disability.

34 CFR 104.3(j) 29 USC 706

Students who qualify under Section 504 are to receive services to the same extent as students without disabilities.  Section 504 students could be served in regular classrooms with accommodations, or may be served in special education with related services.  A Section 504 plan provides procedural safeguards and rights to students and ensures that needed student accommodations will occur.

When considering whether a student qualifies under Section 504, the education practitioner should ask the following three questions:
  1. Does the student have a potentially limiting mental or physical disability or impairment?
  2. Does the student’s disability impair a major life activity (i.e. seeing, hearing, walking, breathing, working, performing manual tasks, learning, eating, sleeping, standing, lifting, bending, reading, concentrating, thinking, speaking)?
  3. Is the degree of impairment substantial?

A written request is made to the school Section 504 coordinator by the teacher, other school personnel familiar with the student, or parent in a letter or using a Request Form.

The school is to provide a timely response and schedule a date for the evaluation meeting, request for records by the parent/guardian, and provide a copy of the procedural safeguards. School districts should establish a timeline to complete the 504 evaluation process in a timely manner.

The product of the 504 meeting is an accommodation plan.  This plan provides a systematic approach to ensure that the student is receiving the necessary accommodations.  The plan lists the student’s disabilities and the major life activity affected.     The accommodation plan should have an explanation on how learning is affected and what accommodations are being recommended to remediate the disability.  

Schools have a child find requirement for all students with disabilities, even those without a permanent residence.  The McKinney -Vento Homeless Assistance Act defines homelessness as a student between the ages of 0-22, (extended beyond compulsory attendance age to address the needs of preschool, early head-start, and student with special education needs) who lacks a fixed, regular and adequate night time residence. 

The transient lifestyle of homeless students and their families makes the sharing of student records, much more significant to ensure proper placement. Students are to be enrolled immediately, even if immunization and other records are not available.  School districts must cooperate promptly to exchange 504 and other records.  In California, EC 49069 requires schools to exchange records in 5 business days.

Partial credits, under EC 48645, shall be awarded, and school districts must be flexible in providing credit and enrolling students in appropriate programs that will allow them to complete their coursework.

Reference: www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/osers/osep/policy.html.thompson.com.

By Melissa Schoonmaker, Consultant II, Child Welfare and Attendance Unit

Most children with chronic illness can be well served with a 504 plan and are served through the regular education program rather than special education.   The SARB practitioner should ask what can be done to support the student in receiving the appropriate type of instruction, while minimizing loss of instructional time.  The 504 Plan should be considered when reviewing the student’s attendance during the SARB process.  Even 504 students with accommodations due to medical conditions must attend school.  The 504 Team should emphasize the importance of school attendance to ensure educational continuity for students who may periodically miss school for medical reasons. 

By Dr. Victor Thompson, Director II, Student Support Services

See the Educator’s Guide to Section 504 for more information

Schools have a responsibility to ensure equal educational opportunities for all students, including students with disabilities.  California public schools have a legal responsibility to adopt policies to protect, prevent and respond to unlawful disability discrimination and harassment.

Disability harassment under Section 504 is intimidation or abusive behavior toward a student based on disability that creates a hostile environment by interfering with or denying a student’s participation in or receipt of benefits, services, or opportunities in the institution’s program. Harassing conduct may take many forms, including verbal acts and name-calling, as well as nonverbal behavior, such as graphic and written statements, or conduct that is physically threatening, harmful or humiliating.

When harassing conduct is sufficiently severe, persistent, or pervasive that it creates a hostile environment, it can violate a student’s rights under Section 504.  A hostile environment may exist even if there are no tangible effects on the student where the harassment is serious enough to adversely affect the student’s ability to participate in or benefit from the educational program. Where the institution learns that disability harassment may have occurred, the institution must investigate the incident(s) using the District’s Uniform Complaint Procedures (UCP).

By Tom Steele, Baldwin Park Unified School District

Suspension and expulsion of students with disabilities may generally be treated the same way under both the IDEA and 504.  OCR has stated that districts may apply the same protections available to students classified as disabled under the IDEA to students classified as disabled under 504 as a means of compliance.  However, a student with an identified disability under Section 504 who violates any Education Code 48900 section related to the use of alcohol, drugs, or illegal substances can be disciplined in the same manner as a non-disabled student.  [Title 29, USC 705 (20)(c)(iv)].

§  If a 504 student is to be suspended more than 10 days, a manifestation determination must be conducted prior to an expulsion hearing.

Behavior Intervention Plans (BIP)

504 can require districts to develop a BIP for students with disabilities when their behavioral difficulties significantly interfere with their ability to benefit from their education.

Long Term Removals

A district must conduct a reevaluation before making any “significant change in placement.” [34 CFR 104.35(a)].  An exclusion of more than 10 consecutive school days is considered a “significant change in placement.”

Similar to IDEA, OCR interprets a “significant change in placement” to also encompass­ a series of short-term suspensions when they total more than 10 days and constitute a “pattern of removals.”  [34 CFR 300.536].

Expulsion Recommendation

The following steps should be followed when recommending a Section 504 student for expulsion:

1.     The pre-expulsion evaluation and manifestation determination should be completed BEFORE day 5.  A copy of the Section 504 evaluation and administrative hearing/expulsion packet must be provided to Student Support Services no later than the day of the hearing.

2.     Should a violation of these timelines occur, a student MAY NOT be expelled, and the matter will be referred back to the Section 504 Team for needed support.

Manifestation Determination Review

The process for evaluating whether a student's misconduct is related to his disability has historically been referred to as the manifestation determination (MD). While the term does not appear in the 504 regulations, OCR has stated 504 requires an MD review for disciplinary actions that constitute a significant change in placement.  A district may not exclude a student beyond 10 days unless it conducts an MD review and finds that the student’s misconduct is not related to his/her disability.

The process for a MD review is specified in the IDEA.  In 2004, the IDEA changed the MD inquiry, simplifying the process. Conduct is a manifestation of a child’s disability if:

1.     The conduct in question was caused by, or had a direct and substantial relationship to, the child's disability; or

2.     If the conduct in question was the direct result of the district’s failure to implement the IEP.

Placements and Services

Because California law requires the provision of continued services to expelled students, and to avoid discrimination concerns, districts should ensure that appropriate accommodations and services are provided to the 504 student in the expelled placement.

See the Educator’s Guide to Section 504 for more information

Private schools are obligated to enroll students with disabilities if the student is otherwise qualified to participate in the program, with or without minor adjustments.   504 does not require a private school to modify its essential enrollment criteria.   If, however, the student could meet the program criteria with minor adjustments, the private school must make such adjustments.  For example, the student, because of his or her disability, needs additional time to complete a school entrance exam, the accommodation should be provided.  Section 504 provides that private schools must merely afford “minor adjustments” to assist students with disabilities. [34 C.F.R. § 104.39(a)].  

34 CFR 104.36, 29 USC 706 (28)

Following the 504 Team Meeting, if the parent/guardian is not in agreement with the team’s decision, an appeal process should be in place to address this issue.  The following are recommended appeal steps, which should be part of the school district board policy and administrative regulations for Section 504.  These safeguards are similar to the safeguards that are used in an IEP, but be sure you put the 504 safeguards on its own form.  Remember, if you use IEP forms then the student will be covered under IDEA and not 504. 

1.      Informal review of the site procedures by the District 504 Coordinator.

2.      The parent can request a meeting with an impartial mediator or hearing officer, and have an attorney or non-attorney advocate represent him/her at his/her own expense.

3.      If these resolution attempts are unsuccessful, the parent could file a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights (OCR).

The Educator’s Guide to Section 504 is a guide for educational practitioners that addresses Section 504 of the Vocational and Rehabilitation Act of 1973.  The guide includes more comprehensive information on each of the topics found in this website plus ample forms, letters, policies and regulations.  Please contact us for further information on obtaining a copy of the guide at (562) 922-6233 or 504@lacoe.edu or submit the Publications Order Request.

This section features Section 504 forms from school districts in Los Angeles County.  Take the opportunity to review them as you develop your own district forms.  If you would like to submit your 504 forms to be featured on this site, e-mail them to us at Section504@lacoe.edu

This section features Section 504 policies from school districts in Los Angeles County.  Take the opportunity to review them as you develop your own district policies. If you would like to submit your 504 forms to be featured on this site, e-mail them to us at Section504@lacoe.edu