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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Concerning 504 Accommodations
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 learning in 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 are my rights as a parent under Section 504?
As a parent or legal guardian, you have the right to:
Receive notice regarding the identification, evaluation, and/or placement of your child;
Examine relevant records pertaining to your child;
File a complaint with your school district Section 504 Coordinator;
Request an impartial hearing with respect to the district’s actions regarding the identification, evaluation, or placement of your child;
File a complaint with the appropriate regional Office of Civil Rights.
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 assistant principal in writing, expressing your concerns. All referrals are processed through the building 504 coordinator.
Anyone may refer a child for evaluation. Each building has a 504 Coordinator (typically an assistant principal) who oversees the referrals and initiates the process. The 504 team will review information about the student (teacher observations, grades, attendance, PARCC scores, discipline records, medical reports, etc.) and determine eligibility/ineligibility.
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 limiting a major life activity.
Who determines whether a student is "substantially limited?"
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. Parents are notified of and invited to the meeting to determine the student’s eligibility/ineligibility for 504 services.
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.
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 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.
Are all students with dyslexia eligible for Section 504?
No, not necessarily. According to The Dyslexia Handbook, Revised 2007, not all students with dyslexia are automatically eligible for Section 504. Students with dyslexia may be eligible for special education, Section 504, a school plan, or no services at all, depending on the individual needs of the student.
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.
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.
Can my child receive accommodations in advance level courses such as AP classes?
Students with disabilities are allowed the same opportunity to participate in 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 504 team wants my teenage child to attend their Section 504 meeting, but I am worried that they will be uncomfortable talking about their disability. Why should they 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 their disability, how it impacts their ability to do things, and what does and does not help them. In addition, your child’s input to the effectiveness and their 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 SOMSD 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 PARCC to be eligible for Section 504?
No. Low class grades and PARCC 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 PARCC 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. First and foremost we would encourage you to communicate any problems you have with the building your child attends. Each building has an assistant principal who is responsible for Section 504. If you would prefer, you may also speak with the building principal. If you are not satisfied with the outcome at the building level, you may contact the district Section 504 coordinator. Contact information for the building 504 Coordinators and district coordinator is posted on the website. 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 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 no longer are 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 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.
Resources Preparing for College:
- ACT Testing Program
- College Board, Services for Students with Disabilities
- Educational Testing Service
- LD Online: Transition and Self-Advocacy