Did you know the federal government requires schools to protect the civil rights of students with disabilities? But the devil is in the details and Georgia Montoya and Andres Ramirez, two attorneys from the Office of Civil Rights, came to our November HillTOPICS meeting to speak about the public schools’ responsibilities to protect the civil rights of students with 504 plans.
What is Section 504 and what does it do?
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a federal law designed to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities (regardless of whether the student needs special education) and is the basis for disabilities protections within public schools. It requires a school district to provide a “free appropriate public education” (FAPE) to each qualified student with a disability. Each of these students’ individual education needs need to be met as adequately as the needs of nondisabled students.
In order to be eligible for services under Section 504, students must have an identified disability that substantially limits one or more major life activities, such as reading and/or learning. Schools can use Section 504 to support students with learning disabilities (LD) who need instructional accommodations, but don’t qualify for specially designed instruction provided under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). All students eligible for special education services under IDEA are ALSO eligible under Section 504, but not vice versa.
Section 504 requires schools to eliminate barriers that would prevent the student from participating fully in the programs and services offered in the general curriculum. The plan must be documented. This law REQUIRES the school to provide reasonable accommodations, supports and auxiliary aides to allow the child to participate in the general curriculum.
Section 504 can be a powerful ally for students with disabilities whose needs don’t quite rise to the level of services provided using IDEA and an IEP (Individualized Education Plan).
Important to know:
If your child is receiving informal accommodations you should request to formalize the accommodations through a 504 plan in order to ensure that he or she receives the legal protections provided by the federal law. This also provides documentation in the case of transition to a new teacher, school, or setting.
Also, it is important to discuss a 504 plan if your child was eligible for services under IDEA, and the school proposes to end that eligibility, it is likely that your child will still need accommodations for both classroom instruction and testing in order to be successful in general education.
The OCR (Office of Civil Rights), enforces civil rights laws, such as Section 504. Their responsibility is to investigate and resolve complaints of discrimination. They will also help institutions, parents, and students understand their rights and responsibilities.