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Section 504 and ADA: Protecting Children with Disabilties from Discrimination

Qs & As l Articles l 504 Plans & Accommodations l Caselaw l Free Pubs l Info from OCR

Section 504 is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Section 504 ensures that the child with a disability has equal access to an education. The child may receive accommodations and modifications.

Unlike the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Section 504 does not require a public school to provide an Individualized Educational Program (IEP) that meets a child's unique needs and provides the child with educational benefit. Under Section 504, fewer procedural safeguards are available to the child with a disability and the child's parents than under IDEA.

Equal rights

In December 2016,the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights issued Guidance in recognizing, redressing, and preventing racial discrimination in special education in violation of Federal civil rights laws.
This Guidance explains the Title VI requirement that students of all races, colors, and national origins have equitable access to general education interventions and to a timely referral for an evaluation under the IDEA or Section 504 and requires students of all races and national origins to be treated equitably in the evaluation process, in the quality of special education services and supports they receive, and in the degree of restrictiveness of their educational environment.

In December 2016, the U.S. Department of Education also released three sets of guidance about how to interpret and enforce federal civil rights laws that protect the rights of students with disabilities. This Guidance clarifies the responsibilities of educational institutions to ensure that all students have opportunities to learn.

1. The Parent and Educator Resource Guide to Section 504 in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools, issued by the Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), provides a broad overview of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) This is an excellent publication and should be required reading for all educators, attorneys and lay advocates.

2. The Dear Colleague letter (DCL) and Question and Answer Document (Fact Sheet) - additional information about the legal limitations on use of restraint or seclusion to assist school districts in meeting their obligations to students with disabilities.

3. OCR and the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) joint Dear Colleague Letter and question and answer documents will help update educators, parents, students, and other stakeholders to better understand the rights of students with disabilities in public charter schools under Section 504 and IDEA.

Section 504 Charter School Guidance l IDEA Charter School Guidance l Know Your Rights in Charter Schools

Wrightslaw 504 Quiz! Take our new 504 IQ Quiz.

Section 504 Federal Regulations, 34 C.F.R. Part 104.

October 2016: New Regulations The U.S. Department of Justice issued new regulations significantly expanding who’s covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act. This final rule clarifies Congress’s original mandate and sets forth clear new rules, new examples and detailed guidance to ensure that courts, covered entities and people with disabilities better understand the ADAAA. The new regulations took effect October 16, 2016.

US Department of Education Protecting Students With Disabilities. Frequently Asked Questions About Section 504 and the Education of Children with Disabilities.

On September 25, 2008, the President signed the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 (ADA AA). The Act, effective January 1, 2009, emphasizes that the definition of disability should be construed in favor of broad coverage of individuals to the maximum extent permitted by the terms of the ADA.

ADA AA Changes Apply to Section 504. Section 504 was amended so that it incorporates the ADA by reference and applies to public school students. Read more.

2015: US Department of Justice Technical Assistance on Testing Accommodations for individuals with disabilities who take standardized exams and high-stakes tests. Students with a history of academic success may still be a person with a disability who is entitled to testing accommodations under the ADA.

07/15/15: DOJ Finds GA Violates ADA by Segregating Students with Disabilities.GA GNETS program violates ADA by failing to ensure that students with behavior-related disabilities receive services and supports that could enable them to remain in, or return to, the most integrated educational placements appropriate to their needs. Read more at ADA: Information and Technical Assistance l DOJ Findings (PDF)

01/19/12: ADA - Additional Guidance from OCR. (pdf format) - The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued additional guidance about how the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments of 2008 affect public elementary and secondary programs. In most cases, these rules should shift inquiries away from the question of whether a student has a disability, and toward the school district's obligations to ensure equal educational opportunities.

U.S. DOE OCR Guidance Letter advises school districts of the expanded definition and services for students with disabilities. This new guidance requires students who may not have been identified under Section 504 and Title II under ADA to be reevaluated and tested under a broadened definition of disability. (pdf format) This Guidance letter requires school districts to revise their procedures for determining the services a student with a disability will receive after s/he is identified in order to comply with the revised law.

A New Look at Section 504 and the ADA in Special Education Cases by Mark C. Weber. The recent amendments to Section 504 and the ADA greatly expanded section 504/ADA protections and coverage. The ADA Amendments Act (Pub. L. No. 110–325 (2008)) overturns Supreme Court precedent that created narrow coverage of the ADA and section 504. The new law ensures that impairments are to be considered in their unmitigated state and widens the definition of major life activities set forth in the statute’s coverage provision.

Office for Civil Rights (OCR) sends a Resolution/Closure Letter (2007) in a life threatening Peanut Allergy case in virginia. In an argument to the OCR, Gloucester County, VA claimed that a child who had a life-threatening peanut allergy was not "a child with a disability" so was not entitled to an IEP or a 504 plan.
OCR advised that when "a school division's decision that a student is ineligible for Section 504 services could result in death or serious illness, there is a basis for . . . 'extraordinary circumstances' . . ." Because of the "extraordinary circumstances" in this case, OCR agreed to review this child's placement and "other educational decisions." After OCR made their findings, the school district agreed to re-evaluate the child's eligibility for a Section 504 plan.
Click here to download and read.

Qs & As

US Department of Justice FAQs (2015) about Service Animals and the ADA. US Department of Justice Revised Rules (2010) on Service Animals under the ADA.

US Department of Justice Technical Assistance on Testing Accommodations for individuals with disabilities who take standardized exams and high-stakes tests.

What's Your 504 IQ? TAKE THE QUIZ. Try the eleven multiple-choice questions generated by OCR in the 2016 Section 504 Guide.

Does a Child Need an IEP AND a 504 Plan? There is nothing in the law that says a child with a disability should have an IEP for some needs and a 504 plan for others. It’s confusing, it’s more work, and it’s unnecessary.

My School Doesn't Do 504s. Will a Child Study Plan Work? Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act is a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Compliance is not optional.

When Schools Punish Sick Children Who Miss School. Public schools are required by law to accommodate the health needs of students. The plan to accommodate health needs may be called a health plan or a 504 plan.

Age 19 Rules: Fair Play or Discrimination. "Although my daughter wants to play basketball in high school, she will only be eligible in 9th and 10th grades. She is being penalized because of her disability and I don’t think it’s fair. Is this legal?"   No, it’s not fair and some courts have found that this is discrimination.

Child with ADD Kicked Out of After-School Program. Parent attorney Bob Crabtree answers questions and describes responsibilities of private programs to provide services to children with disabilities; suggests strategies parents may use to resolve problems with day care and after-school program providers.

Discrimination: Sending Special Ed Kids Home Early. Surprisingly, we continue to receive questions about school districts that have one set of rules for "special ed kids" and a different set of rules for everyone else. This article answers the questions, then describes a successful OCR complaint brought by a group of parents in Virginia.

Child with 504 Plan Failing, School Won't Evaluate. Child has a 504 Plan; grades dropping; school will not evaluate for IEP because child does not have failing grades on report card. Parent needs a game plan.

Should Poor Organizational Skills be Accommodated in the IEP? Some students with disabilities need accommodations or modifications to their educational program. Even with consistent teaching of strategies, his areas of weakness will probably never be strengths. It’s time for the school to identify and focus on his strengths, and help him find ways to compensate with the problem areas.

How Can I File a Section 504 Complaint? The parent is distressed when his child was suddenly dismissed as manager of a sports team. Sue Whitney offers a plan to deal with the crisis and answers his questions about how to get an appropriate 504 Plan and ensure that the school implements the plan.

Child Has Health Problems, School Reports Him Truant Sue Whitney explains, "You need to take steps to document that your child's absences were due to illness. You also need to prevent this from happening again. Here is your plan . . .". This article includes links to sample Section 504 plans and health plans.

Self-Advocacy: Know Yourself, Know What You Need, Know How to Get It by Nancy Johnson. "Self-advocacy is the ability to understand and effectively communicate one's needs to other individuals. Learning to become an effective self-advocate is all about educating the people around you. There are three steps to becoming an effective self-advocate . . ."

Who is Eligible for Protections Under Section 504 - But Not Under IDEA? Who is protected under Section 504? A student with AIDS? A student with ADD? A student with asthma?

Key Differences Between Section 504 & IDEA - Confused about Section 504 v. IDEA? You aren't alone. Pat describes some important differences between these two laws?

Help! My Son with LD Graduates: Who Will Write His 504 When He Loses His IEP? Post-secondary schools have no obligation to create a document like the IEP and there is no protection under IDEA. But post-secondary schools are subject to Section 504 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. You need to make sure you both know what to expect.

Word Banks and Calculators: Pete Answers Questions About Accommodations and Modifications. Do teachers have to provide the accommodations and modifications listed in the IEP? Pete answers questions, offers thoughts about teaching skills v. providing accommodations and modifications, Diana Hanbury King and Helen Keller, and his "Big Gripe" about special education.

Accommodations and Modifications for College Students. Do colleges have to provide accommodations for disabled students? Dr. Mike Brown offers advice about dealing with colleges.

OCR Complaint & Getting the School to Apologize. Congratulations on the successful resolution to your OCR complaint. Regarding your desire for the district to apologize to your son – it’s not going to happen.

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Legal Articles

Advocating for the Child with Diabetes - This article by Dr. William L. Clarke provides specific examples of how parents and others encountered barriers and resolved conflict with schools; includes suggestions for participation in the advocacy process.

Siblings May Recover Damages for School's Failure to Provide FAPE
-In a unanimous decision, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that parents of two siblings with autism may seek monetary damages for the school’s failure to provide them with a free appropriate public education.

Damages? Deliberate Indifference? Lawsuit Against Hawaii DOE Goes to the Jury.
After a 4 1/2-week jury trial, the first damages case against the Hawai’i DOE went to the jury 24 hours ago. Three more cases alleging deliberate indifference on the part of the DOE are poised to go forward.

ADA & Day Care Centers: Burriola v. Greater Toledo YMCA. Many parents find day care centers unwilling to accept their children with disabilities. The doors to day care centers opened wider for children when a federal judge issued an injunction on behalf of Jordan Burriola, ordering the center to reinstate him and train their staff. This article includes links to pleadings and an article by Tom Zraik, Jordan's attorney.

Doing the Right Thing: Court Vindicates School Nurse in Retaliation Case - Linda McGreevy is a licensed professional nurse, a pediatric nurse practitioner, and a certified school nurse. During the first five years when she worked as a school nurse in the Bermudian Springs Elementary School, she received excellent performance evaluations. Suddenly, her evaluations dropped to unsatisfactory levels. What caused her fall from grace?

Educational Discrimination - Safe at School Information - excellent resources from the American Diabetes Association.

Employment Law Protections for Parents of Disabled and Ill Children. Attorney Loring Spolter describes The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) that provides important job protections to parents who take time off from work to be with children receiving medical and psychiatric care or are recuperating from serious health concerns.

Model Policy Prohibiting Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying on School Property, at school Sponsored Functions, and on School Buses in New Jersey.

Section 504, the ADA, and Education Reform. Describes key concepts under Section 504 and ADA: comparable benefits and services, criteria and methods of administration, reasonable accommodations; and maximum feasible integration. Describes use of standards as a strategy for education reform.

Wrightslaw Discussion of Section 504, the ADA, and the IDEA. Many parents and educators are confused about rights and benefits under Section 504 and the IDEA. This article describes the purposes of these laws and differences in legal rights in several important areas: eligibility, procedural safeguards, impartial hearings, access v. educational benefit, and discipline.

Comparison of ADA, IDEA, and Section 504 from the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF).

Section 504 and IDEA Comparison Chart from the National Center for Learning Disabilities (2012).

The Difference Between IEPs and 504 Plans from

How to File an Education Discrimination Complaint with the Government. This article from FindLaw describes what to do for anyone wishing to file a formal complaint with OCR.

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Section 504 Plans, Accommodations & Modifications

Sample Section 504 and Medical Management Plans - The American Diabetes Association offers excellent model 504 Plans and health plans. These forms can be modified to cover other medical problems. Tip: Consult with your child's pediatrician to make sure the plan is complete and covers all your child's health needs.

Qs & As about IDEA, Students with Disabilities and State and District Assessments. "Family friendly" version of OSEP Memorandum about assessments; 26 questions and answers about parental permission, role of IEP team, accommodations and modifications; alternate assessments, out-of-level testing, accountability, and more.

Accommodations & Modifications. Some students with disabilities need accommodations or modifications to their educational program. This short article defines these terms and provides helpful suggestions for changes in textbooks and curriculum, the classroom environment, instruction and assignments, and behavior expectations. (4 pages, pdf)

Accommodations Manual:  How to Select, Administer, and Evaluate Use of Accommodations for Instruction and Assessment of Students with Disabilities. Developed by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) State Collaborative on Assessment and Student Standards Assessing Special Education Students.

This publication provides a comprehensive professional development guide for states to establish or improve quality accommodations monitoring programs.

Section 504 updated: Greater eligibility and accommodations for students with LD, AD/HD. Learn about recent improvements made to Section 504, a civil rights law that now provides protection and accommodations to even more students with LD and/or AD/HD.

ADDitude’s Classroom Accommodations to Help Students with AD/HD. A free handout from ADDitude Magazine - School Help for Children with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD ADHD) and Learning Disabilities Like Dyslexia.

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Burriola v. Greater Toledo YMCA - Jordan Burriola, a young child with autism, was abruptly terminated from his day care center. In Jordan Burriola v. Greater Toledo YMCA,the Court issued an injunction against the YMCA. The YMCA was ordered to reinstate Jordan and train staff to work with him. Order in pdf

Jarron Draper v. Atlanta Public School District - Court denies motion by Atlanta Public Schools (“APS”) to dismiss Jarron’s civil rights claims for damages after APS discriminated against him, harassed him, and retaliated against him and his family over many years; monetary damages requested under Section 504.(N.D. GA 2008) (PDF)

Mark H. et al v. Patricia Hamamoto and Hawaii Department of Education - Court held that parents of two siblings with autism may seek monetary damages for the school’s failure to provide them with a free appropriate public education. (9th Cir. 2010)

J. S. v. Isle of Wight VA Sch. Bd, U. S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Money damages are not available because Congress intends disabled children to pursue claims to FAPE through remedial mechanisms in the IDEA statute; extensive discussion of statute of limitations and federal "borrowing" doctrine. (2005)

Linda McGreevy v. Stroup, Tsosie, Soltis, Bermudian Springs Sch. District - U. S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that school administrators may be officially and individually liable for retaliating against a school nurse who advocated for children with disabilities. (2005)

Polera v. Bd Ed. Newburgh City Sch. Dist, U. S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. In damages case under Section 504 and ADA, disabled child must first exhaust administrative remedies under IDEA (2002).

Judith Scruggs, Administratix of Estate of Daniel Scruggs v. Meriden Bd of Ed., E. Ruocco, M. B. Iacobelli, and Donna Mule (U. S. D. Conn. 2005) Suit for actual and punitive damages against school board, superintendent, vice principal and guidance counselor under IDEA, ADA, 504, 42 USC 1983, 1985 and 1986. Child bullied, harrassed in school for years while school personnel looked on, did nothing. Child committed suicide. Includes a discussion of why parent did not have to exhaust admininistrative remedies under IDEA.

W.B. v. Matula, U. S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Availability of damages under Section 504, IDEA, and Section 1983 when district refused to evaluate, classify and provide appropriate services to disabled child; exhaustion, qualified immunity, due process (1995).

Yankton v. Schramm. In a case involving a high school student with cerebral palsy, the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit discusses eligibility for special education and related services under IDEA, Section 504, and transition plans.

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Free Pubs

Legal Rights of Children with Epilepsy in School & Child Care: An Advocate's Manual (PDF) This Advocate's Manual published by The Epilepsy Foundation that provides detailed practical guidance to help parents and non-attorney advocates understand the rights of children in the special education process. The information in this manual is not limited to children with epilepsy. It provides excellent information about how to effectively advocate to secure the rights of all children with disabilities.

Students with Disabilities Preparing for Postsecondary Education: Know Your Rights and Responsibilities (U. S. Department of Education). Five-page booklet answers questions about admissions, accommodations & academic adjustments, documentation, evaluations, and discrimination under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act

Accommodations Manual:  How to Select, Administer, and Evaluate Use of Accommodations for Instruction and Assessment of Students with Disabilities. (in html) Developed by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) State Collaborative on Assessment and Student Standards Assessing Special Education Students.

The Accommodations Manual presents a five-step process for individualized educational program teams, 504 plan committees, general and special education teachers, administrators, and district-level assessment staff to use in the selection, administration, and evaluation of the effectiveness of the use of instructional and assessment accommodations by students with disabilities. The guidance in the manual pertains to students with disabilities who participate in large-scale assessments and the instruction they receive.

All Kids Count: Child Care Centers & the ADA. Describes obligations of child care providers under the ADA.

Becoming a Diabetes Advocate - Learn how to advocate for students with diabetes from the American Diabetes Association.

Commonly Asked Questions About Child Care Centers and the Americans with Disabilities Act. (U. S. Department of Justice) 13-page publication explains how ADA requirements apply to Child Care Centers; describes ongoing enforcement efforts in child care by Department of Justice; provides resource list of information about the ADA.

Protecting Students from Harassment and Hate Crimes: A Guide for Schools (U. S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights and National Association of Attorneys General). Many children experience sexual, racial and ethnic harassment at school. This Guide provides guidance about protecting students from harassment and violence based on race, color, national origin, sex, and disability. Download

Rehabilitating Section 504 (National Council on Disability)
One of a series of analyses by the National Council on Disability (NCD) about federal enforcement of civil rights laws. Rehabilitating Section 504 provides a blueprint for addressing the shortcomings that have hindered compliance and enforcement of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

Safe at School - Is your child's school equipped to treat your child's diabetes? Includes success stories of school districts that have adopted policies to ensure that children are safe.

Students with Disabilities Preparing for Postsecondary Education: Know Your Rights and Responsibilities
(U. S. Department of Education). Booklet for students who plan to continue their education after high school; includes questions and answers about admissions, accommodations & academic adjustments, documentation, evaluations, and discrimination under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. In html

Information from the Office for Civil Rights (OCR)

Office for Civil Rights - "We serve student populations facing discrimination and the advocates and institutions promoting systemic solutions to civil rights problems. An important responsibility is resolving complaints of discrimination."

Student Placement in Elementary and Secondary Schools and Section 504 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. (Code No. 19) (1998). This OCR publication explains Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans With Disabilities Act and how they affect student placement in elementary and secondary schools. It also explains evaluation and placement procedures, the educational setting, reevaluations, the individualized education program, procedural safeguards, and nonacademic services and activities.

Free Appropriate Public Education for Students with Disabilities: Requirements Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. (Rev. August 2010). This OCR pamphlet answers the following questions about FAPE: Who is entitled to a free appropriate public education? How is an appropriate education defined? How is a free education defined?

How to File a Discrimination Complaint with the Office for Civil Rights (September 2018)

How to File a Discrimination Complaint with the Office for Civil Rights in Spanish

Customer Service Standards for the Case Resolution Process

OCR's Complaint Resolution Procedures

The OCR Case Resolution and Investigation Manual (Archived Info)

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