Learn about the Section 504 Law in Public Schools

Both children and adults can benefit from Section 504 accommodations.

Teacher calling on girl in classroom
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What is Section 504 of The Rehabilitation Act?

Section 504, as it is often called, is a civil rights law that covers the rights of all individuals with disabilities, not just school-aged children. It prohibits disability discrimination by any program or activity that receives federal funds. It applies to public schools, colleges, and vocational programs as well as state and local government agencies and programs, and public services.

Section 504 is significantly  different from the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Who Qualifies for Section 504 in Public Education Programs?

Schools are required to provide appropriate, reasonable adaptations and modifications for individuals who have disabilities, have a record of disabilities, or are regarded as having disabilities that substantially affect a major life function such as physical or mental functioning. Consequently, this law covers a very broad range of potential disabilities. Learning disabled students who receive specially designed instruction are automatically covered under Section 504.

What does Section 504 Requires Schools to Do?

Section 504 requires that:

  • Districts must provide students with disabilities the same opportunity to succeed in school as they provide to students without disabilities;
  • School programs must be accessible to people with disabilities. Reasonable adaptations and modifications must be made for instructional purposes; and
  • School facilities must be accessible, as in making meetings and classes accessible for wheelchair use.

What Is a Section 504 Plan?

A section 504 plan is a plan developed in consultation with the school district to support a child with relatively minor disabilities so that he or she can take part and succeed in typical school activities.

For students with a physical or mental impairment who do not meet the more stringent requirements for special education services, a 504 Plan may be an alternative.

A 504 Plan includes accommodations, is developed by a 504 committee, and must be implemented by school staff. If you suspect your child has a disability that may qualify, call the 504 coordinator in your district to request a meeting to request a meeting to discuss your child's needs and the possibility of an evaluation.

Does Section 504 Apply to Private Schools and Agencies?

In some cases section 504 applies. If the private school receives any form of federal funding or benefits from federally funded programs or facilities, then it is required to comply with Section 504. Some private schools, for example, may receive federal assistance with meal programs for students.

Are There Limitations on What Schools Must Provide?

Yes. Schools are only required to implement reasonable accommodations and adaptations. If a requested accommodation is too costly for the school, it may legitimately seek a less expensive alternative. Schools are not required to pay for personal use items such as a student's glasses. They are required, however, to provide adaptive materials or technology that may be needed by a student with a visual impairment in the classroom.

For More Information on Section 504:

For more information about Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, contact the Office of Civil Rights, United States Department of Education, The Wanamaker Building, Suite 515, 100 Penn Square East, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19107. This office can either address your issues or connect you with one of the regional offices governing your state. 

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