What is Section 504?

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a federal civil rights statute that prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in programs receiving federal financial assistance. The act defines individuals with disabilities as those who have a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more life activities, have a record of such impairment, or are regarded as having such impairment.

How does Section 504 apply in schools?

Districts that receive federal funding must insure that students who are disabled within the definition of Section 504 are identified, evaluated, and provided access to free and appropriate educational services, regardless of the nature or severity of the disability.

Who can refer a student for consideration of a 504 designation?

Referrals may come from professional staff, parents, public agencies (health, welfare, educational), physicians, self-referrals, or as a result of diagnostic screenings or evaluations.

What are the major steps in the 504 process?

When the Special Education Director receives a written referral, it sends the parents of Meeting invitation to discuss the reasons for referral and plans to assess the student will be sent to the parents. The Team asks the parent to give written consent for the district to evaluate their child by means of formal testing or a review of existing information, records, or evaluations. The parent provides the district with medical or specialist documentation to support the medical condition, the need for a 504 plan, and recommended accommodations. Team members conduct appropriate evaluations to determine if there is any cause to suspect a disability. Reports from outside sources will not be accepted in place of the district conducting it own assessments. If a disability is suspected, the director may request a referral for a complete evaluation. If the director determines the student does not evidence a disability requiring a referral for an evaluation (or) if the special education evaluation determines a student who is referred does not have a disability as specified in Pennsylvania Special Education Law, the director will then consider if the student is disabled under Section 504 and, if so, will draft an Accommodation Plan.

Would a child qualify for a 504 if they were not eligible for Special Education Services?

No. Students who do not qualify as disabled under special education law would not automatically qualify under Section 504 – they must meet the requirements in federal legislation for Section 504. 

What is an Accommodation Plan (also known as a Service Agreement)?

A 504/Chapter 15 Accommodation Plan specifies the adaptations, modifications, supports, strategies, and interventions that will enable a student to have reasonable and appropriate access to instruction or the environment. Accommodations may include, but are not limited to, adaptations in communication, organization, management, alternative teaching strategies, and precautions for student health or safety. Appropriate services might also include any educational support services except enrollment in a special education class.

Does the district provide the diagnosis needed for a 504 plan?

No. The district is not responsible for providing evaluations conducted by independent evaluators (e.g. physicians, specialists, audiologists, psychiatrists) to support or provide a diagnosis. Parents are responsible for providing the district with a physician’s diagnosis for conditions that would qualify for a disability under 504.

Does a medical diagnosis by a health professional automatically result in a 504 plan?

No. An official diagnosis alone does not automatically result in eligibility for programs or services under Section 504. A diagnosis should be considered as one piece of the evidence when evaluating the child.

What must the medical diagnosis include?

A physician’s prescription that gives only a diagnosis does not provide adequate documentation for a 504 plan. In order for the 504 Team to determine if a medical condition meets the federal guidelines for a 504 disability, medical verification must clearly describe how the medical condition impacts the child’s ability to access his/her program, the long-standing nature of the condition, and what accommodations need to be provided to address the condition in the academic setting.

How are parents included in their child’s 504 process?

Parents/guardians are an important part of the team and the process. In addition to providing acceptable documentation, parents are involved in developing the accommodation plan. Prior parental approval is needed for initial 504 plans. Written parent approval is not needed for a plan’s renewal. Parent attendance is not required at an initial or renewal 504 Plan meeting.

What paperwork is part of the 504 process?

After a 504 meeting, parents will receive a Notice of Determination of eligibility, the approved Accommodation Plan (if determined eligible), and a copy of  Parent/Student Rights under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. These important documents should be kept and referenced for future meetings and as the student moves through school, attends college or gets a job after graduation.

Will the 504 plan follow my student from building to building within the district?

All building 504 plans are reviewed and approved by the district office. Students with current 504 plans who are projected to move to another building in the district should have their plans reviewed by receiving staff before the transfer or within 30 days of the move. This will help insure that previously approved accommodations are still appropriate within the new environment. However, even if the plan is not reviewed, it remains in effect until the student’s 504 annual review.

As a parent, what if I disagree with the district’s 504 decision about my child?

Contact the Assistant Superintendent overseeing Student Services to review the situation. Under Section 504, parents of students with disabilities are entitled to notice regarding actions affecting the identification, evaluation of educational placement of their children, and may request an impartial hearing if they disagree with the determination regarding a free appropriate public education (FAPE). Unlike special education, 504 does not entitle the student to receive an independent evaluation at district expense.

What is needed to continue my child’s 504 Plan from year to year?

  1. Parents must provide current medical documentation each year for consideration of continued eligibility of 504 plans involving a medical diagnosis. If required documentation is not provided, the PST/CT may notify the parents in writing that the 504 plan is discontinued.    
  2. School staff are expected to document the student's full and consistent use of accommodations across all or in specified settings in order to continue providing these supports annually.
  3. The documented failure of students to need or consistently use 504 accommodations will result in them being removed from a plan or having the plan discontinued.  

How long does it take to get an initial 504 plan?

The length of time involved depends to a great degree on the completeness of the supporting documentation, the extent of time that the student has had difficulty, and the overall impact on the student’s ability to access the educational program. Parents can contact the 504 coordinator or case manager in their child’s building for more information on required documentation. All plans must be initiated or renewed by June 1 of the current year to be active by the opening of school next year. Plans that are not reviewed and approved by the District 504 Coordinator on June 1 are reviewed when school resumes in September.