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Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

Many parents find themselves requesting academic accommodations for children with disabilities. There are two main types of educational plans; an Individual Education Plan (IEP) and a Section 504 Plan. An IEP offers more protection for students, however not all children with disabilities qualify for them. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 governs 504 Plans. More children qualify for 504 Plans as the eligibility criteria is broader.

Disability

The first question is whether your child has a disability and whether that disability qualifies the child for a Section 504 Plan. A disability is a physical or mental impairment that limits an individual from participating fully in one or more major lifestyle activities. Impairments can include illnesses, injuries, diseases, or communication or learning issues. The type and severity of a disability can determine whether a child is eligible for an IEP or a 504 Plan or neither. Disabilities can be identified either through school system evaluation or private evaluations that parents have obtained outside of the school system.

K–12 schools

Schools are required to accommodate children with disabilities to facilitate their learning. There are many different accommodations that can be put into place such as the use of headphones to block out distractions, the use of “fidgets”, and extended testing time. The definition of disability under Section 504 is broader than that of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act which governs IEPs. Section 504 requires school districts to provide a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) to children with disabilities that are ineligible for an IEP. Each school district must identify a child's educational needs and provide regular or special education to accommodate the needs.

A 504 plan covers accommodations, services, and support the child needs to receive equal access to education. A 504 plan is different and substantially less detailed than an IEP. For example, a 504 Plan is not required to be written, unlike an IEP, however both plans are usually written. Section 504 also protects student rights for other components of the educational setting, such as extracurricular activities, sports, and after-school care.

Schools generally evaluate students with disabilities and determine whether they are eligible for a 504 Plan. If the student is eligible for Section 504 accommodations, the school and parents work together to create the 504 Plan. Parents, teachers, and school staff are all a part of the process, as they are with an IEP. Parents have due process rights under both. If a parent disagrees with a school’s decision, he or she has a right to an impartial hearing. A special education attorney advocate can assist with such hearings and ensure that your child’s needs are presented in a way that the school can best understand, and that proper procedures are followed.

Complaints

If a school violates Section 504, a parent can file a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education. Unfortunately, these complaints can take a great deal of time to be evaluated. Violations of Section 504 can, in extreme cases, result in a loss of federal funding. In addition to a complaint, parents can also file a civil lawsuit.

If you would like assistance in ensuring that your child receives the educational services to which he or she is entitled, contact Janko Law and Mediation, LLC. Our firm understands the importance of ensuring that children have the best possible education to set them up for success in adult years and our attorneys have first-hand experience with their own children requiring assistance in the school system. Call for a free consult at 303-210-4204 or complete our confidential online intake.

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