What is Section 504?
- Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination by federally funded programs on the basis of physical or mental disability. It is intended to “level the playing field” by eliminating disability related impediments for full participation in federally funded programs. The law protects individuals, whose physical or mental disabilities substantially limit one or more “major life activities,” such as caring for themselves, seeing, breathing, walking or learning. This statute protects students with physical and mental disabilities who are not, and should not be receiving special education services, as well as those receiving special education services. Virtually all public school districts receive some federal funding and so are covered by Section 504. Some examples of Section 504 services are administration of medication, monitoring students’ physical well-being, making facilities physically accessible, use of equipment like tape recorders and calculators, counseling, and test modifications or accommodations. Like the IDEA, Section 504 requires that students with disabilities be educated with their non-disabled peers unless such education cannot be achieved satisfactorily.
Who is eligible for 504 services?
- Students who have a disability that substantially limits a “life activity” such as breathing, learning, eating, walking, playing, seeing or otherwise participating in school activities are eligible for section 504 services. Some disabilities that might require 504 accommodations include depression, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, diabetes, cerebral palsy, cystic fibrosis, severe allergies, asthma, epilepsy, AIDS or HIV, cancer and visual and hearing impairments.
How are 504 services different from special education services provided under IDEA?
- Section 504 is an anti-discrimination statute. Section 504 services are supposed to “level the playing field” by eliminating any disability-related obstacles to a student’s full participation in the general education classroom. In contrast, special education under IDEA is an entitlement program under which school systems are given additional federal funding and in return must provide students with programs and services in addition to those available to persons without disabilities.
Can the 504 team order accomodations to the ACT/SAT?
- Not with any real authority. The testing services will review the modifications a student is receiving under 504 or IDEA, and then will make their own independent determination of whether modifications to college entrance exams will be allowed. Understandably, a student who receives modified testing in the school setting seems a more likely candidate to receive modifications on college entrance exams. Likewise, the longer the student has received the modifications, the more likely they will be considered favorably. As might be expected, a few juniors and seniors claim disability each year for the sole purpose of receiving extra time on these critical exams. The independent review by the testing services apparently is calculated to prevent that abuse.
Edited by Debra L. Solis