Section 504 is an anti-discrimination law that requires schools to provide disabled students equal access to educational benefits and opportunities as provided to non-disabled students.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is the law that outlines these student protections.
This stature ensures that eligible students receive reasonable accommodations necessary for them to have equal access to school related programs and activities. These accommodations do not guarantee success they simply provide the opportunity- they level the playing field. Accommodations cannot provide the student with an unfair advantage to non-disabled students.
An eligible student is a student who (a) has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities, (b) has a record of having such an impairment, or (c) is regarded as having such an impairment.
The campus Section 504 committee determines eligibility. In order to make this determination, the committee must answer the following questions:
- What is the disability?
- What major life activity is affected?
- Although the life activity is affected, is it substantially limited?
*when a condition does not substantially limit a major life activity then the student does not qualify.
If determined eligible by the 504 committee, the need or development of an accommodation plan will be considered.
Impairments vs. Disabilities:
Section 504, the ADA, and the Amendments Act are consistent in drawing a distinction between individuals with impairments and those with disabilities. According to legislation, a disability is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. The term may also be used to describe an individual who has a record of such an impairment or who is regarded as having such an impairment.
An individual may have an impairment, and many people do have impairments such as poor eyesight or medical conditions or disorders. Unless the impairment substantially limits that individual in a major life activity, however, they are not considered to be “disabled” under the legislation.
Physical or Mental Impairment:
In order to be eligible for protections under Section 504 and the ADAAA, an individual must have a physical or mental impairment. A physical or mental impairment may impact bodily systems such as brain or nervous system, endocrine systems, skeletal system, etc. An individual who is “at-risk” for failure in school due to lack of progress would not necessarily be eligible for protections under Section 504 because there are many reasons, including socio-cultural reasons.
Major Life Activities:
Regulations include a sample list of “major life activities”, but it also makes it clear that the list is not exclusive. Eligibility should be determined on a case-by-case basis. The list includes:
caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working. 42 U.S.C. Section 12102(4)(a)(2)(A).
The regulations also include “the operation of bodily function”:
The operation of a major bodily function, including but not limited to, functions of the immune system, normal cell growth, digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions. 42 U.S.C. Section 12102(4)(a)(2)(B).
Original legislation accepted the use of mitigating measures when determining a disability. If an individual had implemented mitigating measures such as medications or assistive devices, that information could be used in determining whether the individual was substantially limited in one or more major life activities. With the amendments of 2008, the use of mitigating measures was removed. In determining whether an impairment substantially limits a major life activity, one must consider the condition as it would be without the mitigating measures. The only exception to this rule is the use of eye glasses
Referral for Section 504:
- A referral by a parent or district professional concerning a child with a disability, who may be considered for protection under §504, is made through the campus designee for §504.
- An evaluation, designed based on the specific condition, may include a review of medical or psychological documentation provided by the family’s private provider(s). For conditions, other than dyslexia, there is not a “test” for eligibility. Parents and teachers may complete checklists or observations in order to gather data to support the need for accommodations through §504.
- The §504 committee determines the eligibility for supports and services, then develops the accommodations plan to address the identified concerns.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination on the basis of a disability. “No qualified person with a disability shall, on the basis of disability, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or otherwise be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity which received or benefits from Federal financial assistance.” 34 CFR §104.4(a).
Additional 504 Information and Resources:
Response to Intervention- RtI
Defining Response to Intervention
Response to Intervention (RtI) is a problem solving process for providing increasing levels of support to students. RtI integrates student assessment and instructional intervention in a prevention-oriented approach by linking assessment and instruction to inform educators’ decisions about how best to teach their students. Response to Intervention, or RtI, is the practice of meeting the academic and behavioral needs of all students through a problem-solving process with three key elements:
- High-quality instruction and research-based, student centered tiered interventions
- Frequent monitoring of student progress
- Use of data in making educational decisions regarding student success.
The fundamental purpose of RtI is to enhance grade level instructional practices while supporting students in need to learn at high levels.
The National Center on Response to Intervention offers a definition that reflects what is currently known from research and evidence-based practice. “Response to intervention integrates assessment and intervention within a multi-level prevention system to maximize student achievement and to reduce behavioral problems. With RtI, schools use data to determine students at risk for poor learning outcomes, monitor student progress, provide evidence-based interventions and adjust the intensity and nature of those interventions depending on a student’s responsiveness, and identify students with learning.”
Laws Supporting Response to Intervention (RtI)
The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA 2015) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA 2004) focus on the quality of instruction that students receive in the general education setting.
ESSA and IDEA require:
- The use of research-based instruction and interventions
- Effective reading and mathematics instruction
- Essential components for reading and math
- Reading: phonemic awareness, vocabulary development, reading comprehension, phonics instruction, and fluency
- Mathematics: mathematics calculation and problem solving
Response to Intervention is not designed to be a pre-referral process. It is not a model in which a student must “fail” before interventions begin. It is a proactive, positive approach for supporting all learners, particularly those who are struggling.
Additional RtI Information and Resources: