What is Section 504?
Section 504 is a federal law prohibiting discrimination based on disability. It mandates that any organization that receives federal funds, including public schools, public charter schools, and magnet schools, must comply with Section 504. According to the U.S. Department of Education, the law states that those with a disability are “entitled to receive regular or special education and related aids and services that are designed to meet their individual education needs as adequately as the needs of students without disabilities.” This includes equal opportunity to participate in athletics and extracurricular activities and to be free from bullying and harassment.
What does it mean by a disability?
Under Section 504, the definition of a disability is much broader than is required for an individualized education program (IEP) and is defined as a physical or mental impairment that limits a major life activity. Some of the major life activities listed under Section 504 that might relate to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) include learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, and communicating. School officials should not look at how the disability affects learning alone, but also at how the disability affects any major life activity. Only then can they adequately determine what aids or resources the student needs in order to participate in learning and activities alongside children without a disabilities.
Schools cannot look at how a child behaves or learns while receiving treatment for ADHD. The law states that any measures to mitigate the disability (for example medications) cannot be considered as a cause to deny services. The school must determine which services are needed without mitigation.
Does my child need to be failing or near failing to be eligible for services under Section 504?
The U.S. Department of Education explains that “grades alone, whether good or bad, do not necessarily indicate whether a student has a disability.” For example, a student with ADHD who has high grades might require more time to complete class work, tests, and assignments to maintain those grades. This might qualify as difficulty with a major life activity and indicate the need for services. Passing grades should not be used as an indicator of ineligibility.
Is Section 504 different from an IEP?
IEPs are provided under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) , which is an educational benefit law. Section 504 is governed by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which is a civil rights law. Both laws provide services to students with disabilities, however, under IDEA the definition of a disability is much more restrictive but it might provide for services and protections not available under Section 504. Another difference is that under IDEA, the services provided must result in an academic improvement. Under Section 504, accommodations can be provided but it does not require that a student improve. Both laws require that the student is placed in the least restrictive environment.
Do all children with ADHD qualify for Section 504?
A diagnosis of ADHD does not automatically qualify a child for accommodations under Section 504. Eligibility is based on whether your child has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity.
How do schools determine eligibility?
Schools must complete an evaluation when they have a reason to believe a child has a disability. Referrals for evaluations can come from parents, teachers, or other school personnel. Requests for an assessment can be made based on academic or behavioral (or both) issues. The evaluation must be performed by qualified personnel and must be done without a cost to the parents. In addition, if the school district determines that a medical evaluation is needed, this must be done at the school’s expense.
What is a “reasonable accommodation?”
A reasonable accommodation is a modification to a task, environment, or a way of doing things to all children with disabilities to participate in school and have access to information and instruction. Reasonable accommodations, under Section 504, do not include changes to the way students are graded.
What types of accommodations are available under Section 504?
Accommodations are based on your child’s individual needs, meaning that accommodations for one child might not be the same as those provided for a different child. Some common accommodations for children with ADHD include:
- Extra time for tests
- Preferential seating
- Daily or weekly communication with parents
- Oral tests
- Completing seatwork at home, without an effect on grading
- Reduction of homework or seatwork
If your child is eligible for Section 504, you will be encouraged to attend a meeting with teachers and other school personnel. During this meeting, you will discuss the types of accommodations that would benefit your child and schools often create a document detailing them. This document is legally binding.
How do I request a Section 504 for my child?
You should write a letter to the school asking for an evaluation to determine if your child’s ADHD substantially limits his education, learning, or behavior. In this letter, you should provide information outlining your child’s disability (although a diagnosis of ADHD is not required, it does make the process easier) and the problems he is experiencing in school.
If I request an evaluation, is the school required to complete an evaluation?
A school is not required to complete an evaluation based on your letter or request. If the school does not believe your child is eligible, they can deny your request for an assessment. If this happens, the school must notify you of their decision and provide you a right to appeal.
Section 504 does not include a specific timeframe for when the evaluation must be completed, however, under IDEA the evaluation must be completed within 60 days of parental consent and the U.S. Office for Civil Rights (OCR), which oversees Section 504, generally accepts this as the accepted timeframe.
How often is a Section 504 Reviewed?
The law does not specify how often a Section 504 is to be reviewed, however, many schools opt to review them on an annual basis. During your initial Section 504 meeting, you should ask the school personnel how often you should expect to have a review.
What should I do if the school doesn’t follow the Section 504?
Every school district is required to have at least one person who oversees Section 504. This person is often called the 504 Coordinator and should be your first point of contact if you have problems with either the evaluation or implementation of the Section 504 plan. Your school should have provided you with information on who to contact and how you can file a complaint or an appeal.
Section 504 is enforced by the U.S. Office of Civil Rights (OCR). If you wish to file a complaint against your school, you should contact your regional office of the OCR, call the OCR hotline at 800-421-3481 or file an online complaint form.
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Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.