Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, commonly known in schools as Section 504, is a federal civil rights law passed by the United States Congress with the purpose of prohibiting discrimination against persons who may participate in, or receive benefits from, programs receiving federal financial assistance. In the public schools, specifically, Section 504 applies to ensure that eligible students with disabilities are provided with services designed to meet their individual needs as adequately as the needs of non-disabled students or Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). Section 504 regulations require identification, evaluation, provision of appropriate services, least restrictive environment, and procedural safeguards in every public school in the United States.
Section 504 regulations require districts to undertake Child Find activities under a system that is similar to or combined with those imposed by the IDEA into one comprehensive system. The main focus of the Child Find provision is ensuring school districts locate and identify eligible students who do meet, or the school district has reason to suspect may meet, the Section 504 three-part definition of disability:
- has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities,
- has a record of such an impairment, or
- is regarded as having such an impairment.
Schools must conduct an evaluation of any student “who, because of a disability, needs or is believed to need special education and related services.” Students who are enrolled in private schools located in SBISD may also be eligible to participate in Child Find activities.
Procedural safeguards are the hallmark of both Section 504 and IDEA. The requirement to establish and implement a system of procedural safeguards with respect to the identification, evaluation, and educational placement of students with disabilities is found in the regulations of both laws. These systems of procedural safeguards include the right to notice, the opportunity for the parent or legal guardian to examine relevant records, the right to an impartial hearing, the right to representation by legal counsel, and a review procedure.
Requests for referral for consideration of eligibility under Section 504 can be made through the campus-based early intervention process by a parent, student, administrator, counselor, or other school personnel in accordance with district procedures whenever it is believed that a student is substantially limited in one or more major life activity areas due to a physical or mental impairment (disability).