What is Section 504?
Section 504 is a mandatory federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in public and private sectors that receive federal funding. Because they accept federal funding, public schools are required to abide by Section 504 and provide reasonable accommodations to students who meet eligibility standards. Section 504 requires students with disabilities be given an equal educational opportunity. This is commonly done through a documented plan that includes accommodations or services to ensure Section 504 students can access the curriculum as adequately as their non-disabled peers. Participation in student support or Response to Intervention (RtI) systems does not exclude students from Section 504 referral, even if a student is successful given the intervening services. Utilization of RtI should not delay, deny, or prevent students from access to Section 504 evaluation or services. Referral to Section 504 should occur when a school suspects a disability is present (or has knowledge a disability has been identified) and the student may be in need of services due to the disability.
Who is protected by Section 504?
- Students with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Episodic conditions and conditions in remission would meet this standard if the impairment would cause substantial limitation when in an active phase.
- Students with a record of a physical or mental impairment.
- Students regarded as having a physical or mental impairment.
Students in all three categories may be considered eligible for the anti-discrimination protections and rights afforded under Section 504. However, only those students in the first category where a physical or mental impairment has been determined to cause substantial limitation to a major life activity would be considered for a possible Accommodation Plan.
How is Section 504 eligibility determined?
After referral, the evaluation process begins with written informed consent signed by the student’s parent/guardian. Data is collected from a variety of sources (formal and/or informal). A Section 504 committee is responsible for decisions involving identification, evaluation, placement, FAPE, eligibility, 504 plans, annual reviews, etc. The committee must include persons knowledgeable of the child, evaluation data, and placement options. The purpose of the evaluation is to determine three components of eligibility:
- Does the student have a physical or mental impairment?
- Does the impairment cause substantial limitation?
- Does the substantial limitation occur in one or more major life activities?
A physical or mental impairment is:
- 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,
- Any mental or psychological disorder, such as intellectual disability, organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness, and specific learning disabilities.
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, writing, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working. This also includes major bodily functions of the immune system, normal cell growth, digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions.
Students are eligible under Section 504 if they have a physical or mental impairment that would substantially limit them in a major life activity despite taking advantage of mitigating measures. Mitigating measures are strategies or supports utilized by the person with the disability. Section 504 because of a mitigating measure. Common mitigating measures include: medication, medical supplies, equipment or appliances, low-vision devices, prosthetics, hearing aids, cochlear implants, mobility devices, oxygen therapy equipment and supplies, use of assistive technology, informal accommodations, compensatory skills, interventions, learned behavioral, or adaptive neurological modifications. Beneficial effects of mitigating measures are not considered in an evaluation for 504 eligibility. However, they are considered in determining whether or not services and/or accommodations are necessary.
What services are provided through Section 504?
Accommodations provided under Section 504 are meant to “level the playing field” for the student with a disability, not to give a student an unfair advantage over non-disabled peers. Section 504 accommodations are determined individually based on need by the Section 504 committee and documented within a written plan. Accommodations may involve changes in the method information is presented to a student, changes in the method a student is allowed to provide a response, or changes that affect assessment of knowledge. Other accommodations/services may include a Behavior Intervention Plan for students with behavioral difficulties, an Individual Health Plan for students with medical needs, etc.
Once a student is eligible under Section 504, a re-evaluation must be conducted on a periodic basis. This will occur at least once every three years, or as needed to ensure students’ needs are being adequately addressed, and before any significant change in placement. The goal at Hitchcock ISD is to follow best practice and ensure a review occurs at least once each school year for each Section 504 student.
How will decisions regarding qualification and services be documented?
Hitchcock ISD will use the Section 504 forms recommended via eSTAR/eSPED online services, and will supplement as needed from the forms released by the Council of Educators for Students with Disabilities (CESD). These forms are up-dated at least annually to comply with all legal requirements.