Section 504 is a civil rights law, used to make sure children with disabilities are not discriminated against within the school setting. This law is less restrictive than IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Law) and can help students with disabilities that do not qualify for special education services. Section 504 requires school districts provide a "Free and Appropriate Education" (FAPE) to all students, regardless of disability.
According to the law, a disability is defined as:
- has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities,
- has a record of such impairment, or
- is regarded as having such an impairment.
Under IDEA, a number of specific disabilities are listed, however, under Section 504 there is no specific list. Instead, children eligible must meet general criteria of disability. Because of this, children with less severe disabilities may qualify for accommodations or modifications in the classroom, even if they do not qualify for special education services. Section 504 is often a quicker, more flexible way for parents to request accommodations or modifications for a child suffering from a mental illness, such as anxiety.
To start the process, parents must send a written request to the school requesting an evaluation of their child to determine eligibility. This letter should include the diagnosis, how symptoms interfere with the student's ability to learn or succeed in school. Documentation, such as examples of schoolwork, letters from the teachers, and documentation from medical professionals can be included with the request. Once the evaluation has been completed, the school district will notify the parents of the results. If your child is found to be eligible, a meeting with school personnel, teachers and parents will be held to determine what services, accommodations or modifications can be put into place in order to help the student succeed.
Parents may want to bring additional documentation to the meeting, including:
- List of child's strengths and weaknesses
- Medical documentation
- Previous correspondence with teachers
- Samples of work or examples of how the student's anxiety interferes with school
- Ideas on how school personnel and teachers can help a student learn or improve a student's chance of success in the classroom
Although Section 504 is not designed to help a child "succeed", it is meant to eliminate discrimination because of a disability, providing a "level playing field" for students with disabilities. This is a broad term and schools and teachers can work in a variety of ways to help a student with anxiety.
If a student is found not eligible for services under Section 504 (or parents do not agree with the accommodations or modifications provided to the student), parents have the right to appeal the decision. Schools are required to provide information on Due Process Hearings and information on the appeal process with the letter denying eligibility. Parents should follow the procedures outlined in the letter.
For examples of classroom accommodations and modifications:
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