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  • Writer's pictureAimee

Key Laws to Know: Section 504

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a critical nondiscrimination law, covering children with disabilities in school programs that receive federal funding. Section 504 provides that “[n] o otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States . . . shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance….”

Schools meet their obligations under Section 504 by providing reasonable accommodations for a student's physical or mental limitations, contained within a document called a "504 Plan." The student's 504 Plan follows them throughout their school day and into school-based activities.

Students qualify for a 504 Plan if they have a (1) physical or mental impairment that (2) substantially limits (3) one or more major life activities. A physical or mental impairment can be a diagnosed condition, a condition the student is on record as having, or a condition that the student is “regarded as” having. Determining whether there is a substantial limitation is an individual inquiry, but it generally can be understood as a significant limitation on activities as compared with typical, healthy individuals. Major life activities include, but are not limited to walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working.

The 504 Plan must offer a free appropriate public education (FAPE), consisting of regular or special education and related aids and services designed to meet the disabled student's needs as adequately as the needs of nondisabled students are met.   A Section 504 Plan does not include special education services or specially designed instruction.  It is helpful to think of it as a roadmap of accommodations attached to the delivery of regular education to a qualifying student.  

On May 9, 2024, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released new Section 504 regulations. New regulations go into effect on July 8, 2024.  They include important updates reflecting the changes in the implementation of Section 504 since it was adopted over 50 years ago, such as a more expansive interpretation of the term “disability.” 

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