TAMALPAIS UNION HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT
An Overview of Section 504
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 ("Section 504") is Congress’ directive to schools receiving any federal funding to eliminate discrimination based on disability from all aspects of school operation. It states, “No otherwise qualified individual with a disability …, shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance….” Because the Tamalpais Union High School District is a recipient of federal funding, it is required to provide eligible disabled students with equal access (both physical and academic) to services, programs, and activities offered by its schools.
Section 504 is a civil rights statute. At each school, the responsibility for ensuring Section 504 compliance rests with the District, the school’s Section 504 Site Chairperson and the principal or assistant principal.
There are two main purposes to Section 504. The first purpose of Section 504 is to protect students from discrimination under federal law. Section 504 assures access to educational services and the learning process that is equal to that given to students who do not have disabilities. All students who have a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities, have a record of such an impairment, or are regarded as having such an impairment, are protected from discrimination under Section 504.
The second purpose of Section 504 is to provide a free appropriate public education (“FAPE”) to those students who (1) actually have a physical or mental impairment, (2) that substantially limits, (3) one or more major life activities. The provision of FAPE is accomplished through the creation and implementation of Section 504 Service Plan. Only those students who satisfy all three of these criteria are eligible for, and are provided, regular or special education and related aids and services under Section 504 (in the form of a Section 504 Service Plan).
Frequently Asked Questions about Section 504 Service Plans
What criteria are used to determine whether a student is eligible for a Section 504 Service Plan?
A student shall be eligible for a Section 504 Service Plan if they satisfy all of the following criteria:
(1) Physical or Mental Impairment
A student must actually have a mental or physical impairment. A physical or mental impairment means: 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 mental retardation, organic brain syndrome, emotional, and specific learning disabilities. An impairment that is episodic or in remission is a disability if it would substantially limit a major life activity when active. The law does not limit eligibility to specific diseases or categories of medical conditions.
(2) Substantially Limits
The student’s physical or mental impairment must substantially limit one or more major life activities. Section 504 does not specifically define the term “substantially limits.” It is subject to interpretation on a case-by-case basis. Nevertheless, an impairment that substantially limits one major life activity need not limit other major life activities in order to be considered a disability. An impairment that is episodic or in remission is a disability if it would substantially limit a major life activity when active.
Whether an impairment substantially limits a major life activity shall be made without regard to the ameliorative effects of mitigating measures such as: medication, medical supplies, equipment, or appliances, low-vision devices (which do not include ordinary eyeglasses or contact lenses), prosthetics including limbs and devices, hearing aids and cochlear implants or other implantable hearing devices, mobility devices, or oxygen therapy equipment and supplies; use of assistive technology; reasonable accommodations or auxiliary aids or services; or learned behavioral or adaptive neurological modifications. Thus, the ameliorative effects of the mitigating measures of ordinary eyeglasses or contact lenses shall be considered in determining whether an impairment substantially limits a major life activity.
(3) Major Life Activities
Major life activities include, but are not limited to, caring for one’s self, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working. A major life activity also includes 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. Learning, reading, concentration, thinking, and communication are typically, but not always, the major life activities utilized to determine Section 504 eligibility in the schools.
How is a Section 504 Service Plan referral made?
A parent, guardian, teacher, counselor, related service provider, other school staff, and/or community agency may initiate a Section 504 Plan referral when a student is exhibiting academic, attendance, social and/or behavioral problems. The individual making the referral should complete the Section 504 Service Plan Student Referral Form and forward it to the Section 504 Site Chairperson.
The student’s school will convene meeting to investigate the needs of the student. This preliminary investigation should result in a disposition including one of three things: regular education interventions (such as Response to Intervention), a referral to review Section 504 Plan eligibility, or a referral for a special education evaluation pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 ("IDEA"). If it is determined that the student should go through Section 504 Plan Eligibility Review, then a Section 504 Service Plan Referral Form should be submitted to the school’s Section 504 Site Chairperson.
What is the Section 504 Plan evaluation process?
The District may administer and use formal and informal measures as deemed necessary. If the team is going to conduct an assessment using standardized tests and/or observations in order to determine eligibility, then the team must obtain informed and written consent from the parent/guardian before the student is evaluated.
Once the evaluations are completed, the District will schedule a Section 504 Plan meeting to review the evaluations and the student's Section 504 Plan team will determine whether the student is eligible for a Service Plan under Section 504.
What is the process for reviewing Section 504 Plan eligibility?
At the Section 504 Plan initial team meeting, the team will decide whether the student is eligible under Section 504 by deciding whether the student has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. If the team determines that the student is eligible under Section 504, the team will develop a Section 504 Service Plan.
The Section 504 Plan team is made up of a group of persons knowledgeable about the student (including the student's parent), the meaning of the evaluation data being reviewed, and placement options. The Section 504 Plan team will generally include the parent/guardian and at least one of the student’s general education teachers; and, may include: other teachers, individuals who can interpret the instructional implications of the assessment results, counselors, related service providers, the student, other school staff and administrators, and individuals who have knowledge or special expertise regarding the student.
The Section 504 Plan team, in deciding whether a student is eligible for a Section 504 Service Plan, will collect and carefully interpret evaluation data and in making placement decision, the team will draw upon information from a variety of sources, including, but not limited to, observations, testing, reports, District evaluations, medical records, letters from doctors, health care plans, school records, school administration, school counselors, teachers and paraprofessionals that work with the student, the parent, and when appropriate, the student.
How often should a Section 504 Service Plan be reviewed?
The Section 504 Service Plan should be reviewed on an annual basis, at which time the parent/guardian should receive a copy of the District's notice of parent/guardian rights and procedural safeguards. Further, a re-evaluation of the student should occur at least every three years, or before any significant change in placement, including exiting the student from a Section 504 Plan.
Are there situations when it is inappropriate to offer a Section 504 Service Plan?
Eligibility for a Section 504 Plan is decided by evaluating the student and determining if the student has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. If any of the three criteria is not met, then a Section 504 Plan will not be developed for the student. Keep in mind that while a Section 504 Plan might not be appropriate, other kinds of intervention plans may be appropriate. Some common misuses of a Section 504 Service Plan are outlined below:
· A parent/guardian and/or doctor presents the school with a disability diagnosis and a Section 504 Plan is written without first determining if the disability causes substantial limitation of a major life activity.
· A student is placed on a Section 504 Plan solely because the parent/guardian wants the student to have additional time on college qualifying examinations (e.g., ACT, SAT).
· A student is placed on a Section 504 Plan because the student has a record of impairment or is regarded as being impaired, but the student does not actually have a disability that substantially limits a major life activity.
· A student fails to qualify for special education and related services under the IDEA, but is then automatically provided with a Section 504 Plan.
· A student is automatically placed on a Section 504 Plan when the student no longer qualifies for special education services under the IDEA without first qualifying based on Section 504 criteria.
· A student is placed on a Section 504 Plan as an alternative way to receive special education and related services because the parent/guardian refuses to “label” his/her child by including him/her in a special education program; this may also apply in cases where parent/guardian has revoked consent to special education.
Are there any special rules regarding discipline and students with Section 504 Service Plans?
In disciplinary situations, students who have a Section 504 Service Plan are entitled to certain procedural rights. After a child with a disability has been removed from his or her current placement for ten (10) school days in the same school year, during any subsequent days of removal, the student is entitled to a manifestation determination meeting within ten (10) school days of the District’s decision to change the student’s placement. The child’s parent/guardian must be invited to participate as a member of this manifestation determination meeting. At this meeting, the team will determine (based upon a review of all relevant information in the student’s cumulative and Section 504 Plan files, the Student’s Section 504 Plan, any teacher observations, and any relevant information provided by the parent/guardian) whether the student’s alleged behavior was a manifestation of his/her disability by answering the inquiry required by the IDEA. The questions are:
- Whether the conduct in question was caused by, or had a direct and substantial relationship to the student’s disability; or,
- Whether the conduct in question was the direct result of District’s failure to implement the student’s current Section 504 Plan.
If the team answers yes to either question, the alleged misconduct shall be determined to be a manifestation of the student’s disability. However, if the team answers no to both questions, the alleged misconduct shall be determined not to be a manifestation of the student’s disability and the District may take disciplinary action against the student, such as expulsion, in the same manner as it would with a child without disabilities. If the student’s behavior is determined to be a manifestation of his or her disability, the District will review the plan and modify it as necessary to address the behavior in question. However, regardless of whether a student’s behavior was a manifestation of the student’s disability, the District may determine, following assessment, that a change of placement is appropriate for the student. The District may proceed with this change of placement following notice to the parents; consent is not required for a change of placement pursuant to Section 504.
What are the differences between a 504 Plan and an IEP?
Individualized Education Plan (IEP)
· A full comprehensive evaluation by a multidisciplinary team is required.
· A written individual education program (IEP) is developed.
· The IEP must confer meaningful education benefits based on the needs of the child.
· Placement may be in a specified combination of special education and general education classrooms.
· Students who qualify have a disability in one of 13 qualifying conditions.
· The case manager is the assigned special education teacher.
· Evaluation for eligibility draws on information from a variety of sources.
· A written plan describing services is required.
· The District must provide equal access, relative to nondisabled peers and appropriate services.
· Placement is in general education.
· Students who qualify have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.
· The case manager is the assigned counselor or administrator.
What are the teacher’s role and responsibilities?
· 504 teams usually have at least one of the student’s teachers as a participating member.
· Teachers discuss the student’s strengths, behavior, participation in the core curriculum and the impact of the student’s disability on his/her performance.
· Teachers participate in the review and revision of a student’s 504 Plan.
· Teachers provide accommodations and/or modifications in the regular education setting as outlined in the 504 Plan. Teachers will be provided with a written copy of the 504 Plan.
What are the parents’ rights and responsibilities?
· The parent/guardian has the right to participate in the 504 Team meeting to determine eligibility, program, placement and discipline related issues. The parent shall receive advance notice of the 504 Team meeting.
· The parent/guardian is not entitled to postponement of the 504 Team meeting but may receive one after initiating a request.
· The parent’s responsibilities for supporting the 504 Plan may include, but is not limited to, the following:
o Providing a structured homework setting
o Communicating with team members
o Conferences with school staff
o Weekly progress report checks