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Must Colleges Waive Course Requirements for Students with Disabilities?
Should We File a Section 504 Complaint?
by Sue Whitney, Research Editor, Wrightslaw

Print this page

"My son's disability diagnosis prevents higher math and the Disability Services office at his college denied a waiver for a higher math class requirement.

How do we file a Section 504 complaint against the school?"

What Does the College Require?

If the college requires all students to do a certain thing, or to take a certain class, then all students are required to do it. It is perfectly proper for a college to require a higher level math class for all students in a particular program. If the class is a requirement then it is just that, a requirement.

Accommodations may change the way a student participates, but they do not cancel a requirement of the program.

There is no substitute for an attorney. Only an attorney can give you legal advice, but I can give you some information about resources.

Your Rights and Responsibilities in College

Postsecondary institutions have significantly different responsibilities from those of school districts.

This publication outlines your son's rights and responsibilities. It will tell him whether or not he has a right to the change he is requesting from the college.

This Letter to Parents of college students from the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR) provides examples of the unique relationship between postsecondary institutions and students with disabilities.

Students with Disabilities Preparing for Postsecondary Education: Know Your Rights and Responsibilities. This pamphlet also explains the obligations of a postsecondary school to provide academic adjustments, including auxiliary aids and services, to ensure that the school does not discriminate on the basis of disability.

How to File a 504 Complaint

I would advise your son to be very careful about how he approaches his disagreement with the college. Taking legal action against someone is not a way to gain their cooperation.

He should first be sure that he:

  • has a right to make the request he is making
  • has provided evaluations that document the disability that he is claiming
  • has a paper trail to document the facts of the situation

An old evaluation from public school will not get you very far. Make sure you have an expert - a psychologist - who can complete a current evaluation.

Would the evaluator be willing to speak to college officials about the accommodations needed? Your son will need to have a copy of this evaluation.

Once he has prepared documentation and the explanation well enough to file a complaint, he should take the information and meet with a Dean or other designated person at the school.

The Complaint Process from the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) outlines how and where he can file a 504 complaint.

Taking the First Steps to Self-Advocacy

The first step will be to look at the requirements of the degree your son is pursuing.

If he is over 18, I would advise you to step away from the process completely and let your son handle it.

If he is legally an adult, you have no rights in the process at all.

You both need to read more information about Self-Advocacy

For more comprehensive information and resources go to College: Continuing and Higher Education.  

Good Luck,

Sue Whitney

To Top

More Resources

College: Continuing and Higher Education 

Discrimination: Section 504 and ADA

How Can I File a Section 504 Complaint?

Section 504, the ADA, and Education Reform

How to File a Discrimination Complaint with the Office for Civil Rights in English (September 29, 2005) (Available in other languages)

OCR's Complaint Resolution Procedures

Contact OCR

Created: 05/15/09

Meet Sue Whitney

Sue Whitney of Manchester, New Hampshire, works with families as a special education advocate and is the research editor for Wrightslaw.

Doing Your Homework, Suzanne Whitney gives savvy advice about reading, research based instruction, and creative strategies for using education standards to advocate for children and to improve public schools.

Her articles have been reprinted by,,, The Beacon: Journal of Special Education Law and Practice, the Schafer Autism Report, and have been used in CLE presentations to attorneys.

Sue is the co-author of Wrightslaw: No Child Left Behind (ISBN: 978-1-892320-12-4) that was published by Harbor House Law Press, Inc.

She also served on New Hampshire's Special Education State Advisory Committee on the Education of Students/Children with Disabilities (SAC).

Sue Whitney's bio.

Copyright © 2002-2022 by Suzanne Whitney.

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