What services are available for students with disabilities under Section 504?
Section 504 requires recipients to provide students with disabilities appropriate educational services designed to meet the individual needs of such students to the same extent as the needs of students without disabilities are met. An appropriate education for a student with a disability under the Section 504 regulations could consist of education in regular classrooms, education in regular classes with supplementary services, and/or special education and related services.
Students protected under Section 504
Section 504 covers qualified students with disabilities who attend schools receiving Federal financial assistance. To be protected under Section 504, a student must be determined to:
(1) have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; or
(2) have a record of such an impairment; or
(3) be regarded as having such an impairment. Section 504 requires that school districts
provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to qualified students in their
jurisdictions who have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or
more major life activities.
What is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity?
The determination of whether a student has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity must be made on the basis of an individual inquiry.
The Section 504 regulatory provision at 34 C.F.R. 104.3(j)(2)(i) defines a physical or mental impairment as any physiological disorder or condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or anatomical loss affecting one or more of the following body systems:
- special sense organs;
- respiratory, including speech organs;
- hemic and lymphatic;
- and endocrine; or
- any mental or psychological disorder, such as mental retardation, organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness, and specific learning disabilities.
The regulatory provision does not set forth an exhaustive list of specific diseases and conditions that may constitute physical or mental impairments because of the difficulty of ensuring the comprehensiveness of such a list.
Major life activities, as defined in the Section 504 regulations at 34 C.F.R. 104.3(j)(2)(ii), include functions such as:
- caring for one's self,
- performing manual tasks,
- and working.
This list is not exhaustive. Other functions can be major life activities for purposes of Section 504.
In the Amendments Act, Congress provided additional examples of general activities that are major life activities, including:
- and communicating.
Congress also provided a non-exhaustive list of examples of "major bodily functions" that are major life activities, such as the functions of the immune system, normal cell growth, digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions.
Is attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) a recognized disability under Section 504?
Yes. The Department of Education has acknowledged that ADD and ADHD are impairments that can be the basis of eligibility under either Section 504 or IDEA. The key to eligibility under 504 is whether the student's ADD or ADHD is sufficiently severe that it substantially limits a major life activity, e.g. learning.
Does a physician's diagnosis of ADD/ADHD automatically result in a student being eligible for Section 504?
No. A physician's diagnosis alone does not automatically result in eligibility for programs or services under Section 504. A physician's diagnosis should be considered as one piece of the evidence when evaluating the child.
Once a student is identified as eligible for services under Section 504, is that student always entitled to such services?
Yes, as long as the student remains eligible. The protections of Section 504 extend only to individuals who meet the regulatory definition of a person with a disability. If a recipient school district re-evaluates a student in accordance with the Section 504 regulatory provision at 34 C.F.R. 104.35 and determines that the student's mental or physical impairment no longer substantially limits his/her ability to learn or any other major life activity, the student is no longer eligible for services under Section 504.
How does an IEP differ from a 504 Plan?
A 504 Plan is for students who have a disability, have a record of a disability, and/or are treated as having a disability but do not qualify for special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
It is important to realize that eligibility under Section 504 is not automatic for students who do not qualify for special education services under IDEA. Before deciding whether a student is eligible for this type of plan, the child must be assessed. The school team must agree that the child has a substantial and pervasive impairment, and that it substantially limits his/her ability in a major life area, (ie. learning) in order to be eligible for reasonable accommodations under this federal law.
The purpose of a 504 Plan is to level the playing field and allow a child to get the accommodations needed to access the curriculum at the same level as his or her peers.
What is the Department of Special Education Services?
If intervention strategies are deemed ineffective as noted above, and a referral is made to the district Child Study Team, a Planning Meeting takes place to determine if further evaluations are necessary. A Planning Meeting does not imply or guarantee the school will determine formal evaluations are necessary to decide if a special education classification is warranted.
If the district determines that further evaluation is not warranted, more intervention strategies are typically recommended. If the district determines that further diagnostic evaluations are necessary, a testing plan will be established.
Requests for evaluations can be made if a student is suspected of having a disability that substantially impacts the student’s educational performance and mainstream interventions have been tried through either I and RS and/or the students’ school counselor. The exception to this would be a true emergency. Requests must be made in writing with a parental signature, addressed to the Supervisor of Special Services in the school district in which the family is residing or, for foster children, the district in which the child is attending school.
What is the Process and Timeline for Special Services?
Once a request for a Planning Meeting is received, a meeting will be held within twenty days. The participants of the meeting include the parent(s), a classroom teacher, and some or all of the Child Study Team members. The Child Study Team consists of a learning disability teacher-consultant, school psychologist, speech therapist and school social worker. A “temporary” case manager is assigned and an evaluation plan is considered.
If further diagnostic evaluations are determined to be necessary, the evaluation process may take as long as ninety days, involving the collection of data, test results, observations, interviews, and any other pertinent information that was agreed upon in the evaluation plan. The process concludes with an eligibility determination meeting and, if eligibility criteria has been met, an Individualized Education Program (IEP) is developed with the IEP Team Members.
What are Special Services Programs?
The special services staff includes specialists in psychology, social work, learning disabilities, speech therapy, occupational and physical therapy, special education, reading, and supplementary instruction. Special Education programs and services are individualized to meet the needs of each student.
Please use the links below to access the appropriate documents needed for your request.
How do I make a request for assistance through the Special Services Department?
What are my Parental Rights under special education?
Parental Rights in Special Education