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Specialized Student Support Services

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is the law that prohibits schools from discriminating against students with disabilities. Section 504 sets minimum standards for providing related services and aids to students with disabilities that substantially limits a major life activity. All accredited Iowa schools must comply with Section 504. Section 504 applies to elementary and secondary education, preschool and adult education, and private education.

Subpart D of the Regulations for the Rehabilitation Act - Explains preschool, elementary, and secondary education.

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Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA)

IDEA is an affirmative action statute that requires schools to find, evaluate, and provide services to students with disabilities that fall within specified categories who also live within the school’s jurisdiction. Section 504, on the other hand, is an anti-discrimination statute that requires schools provide access to students who, given their disability, are otherwise qualified to participate in the school’s programs and activities. Schools are prohibited from barring, harassing, or segregating students on the basis of their disability. Although IDEA was inspired by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, IDEA has more robust procedural safeguards. Because of this, schools are encouraged to use the procedural safeguards of IDEA as a model for implementing the procedural safeguards of Section 504.

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Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The ADA requires the access of persons with disabilities to public accommodations. ADA is relevant to schools in a few ways: (1) public schools are public entities to which the ADA applies, (2) the executive and judicial branches of government interpret the rules and regulations implementing the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 consistently with the ADA, and (3) recent amendments to the Rehabilitation Act provide that its definition of "disability" is the same as used in the ADA. As a result, schools can find obligations under both statutes separately or in concert.

The ADA Amendments Act of 2008 strengthens the relationship between the ADA and Section 504. Key changes to the ADA were signed into law on September 25, 2008. The amendments become effective January 1, 2009. They embody two important changes. First, the definition of a disability has been broadened beyond the definitions provided in the holdings of Sutton v. United Air Lines, Inc. 527 U.S. 471 (1999) and Toyota Motor Mfr., Kentucky, Inc. v. Williams, 534 U.S. 184 (2002). Determining whether an impairment substantially limits a major life activity no longer needs to be determined with reference to the ameliorative effects of mitigating measures such as medication, appliances, prosthetics, hearing aids, and mobility devices. This may have the effect of increasing the number of students eligible for Section 504 plans.

Second, the statute—not only the rules and regulations—lists examples of major life activities. They are "caring for one's self, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning and working." The amendments add "eating, sleeping standing, lifting, bending, reading, concentrating, thinking and communicating." The amendments also define major bodily functions to include "the operation of a major bodily function, including but not limited to, functions of the immune system, normal cell growth, digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain respiratory, circulatory, endocrine and reproductive functions."

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Evaluation and Placement

The evaluation under Section 504 can follow a similar process as an evaluation under IDEA. However, at minimum, a multidisciplinary Section 504 team including individuals knowledgeable of the student, placement options, and data should convene and consider multiple sources of data including teacher assessments and results from tests that are valid for the specific area of concern that tests abilities as well impairments. The team makes the placement decision based on the student’s needs and the related services and aids needed as determined through the evaluation process.

When schools suspect that a student has a disability that substantially impacts a major life activity, then the school must evaluate the student to ensure that the student has equal opportunity to access the school’s programs and activities. The school should obtain the consent of the student’s parents or guardians before an initial evaluation. If the parents decline, then the school may appeal the decision by using due process hearing procedures. However, if the parents or guardians inform the school that the child has a disability and the school disagrees, then the burden is on the parent or guardian to provide further evidence of the disability or appeal the school’s decision by using an impartial hearing.

Links to legislation, regulations, and policy and guidance provided by the Office for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education which enforces Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).

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Procedural Safeguards

Schools must provide parents or guardians with notice that explains evaluation and placement decisions, the right to review educational records, and the right to appeal evaluation and placement decisions. Schools should designate one person to handle notices to ensure that this responsibility is covered. Unlike IDEA, administrative remedies need not be exhausted under Section 504 before parents and guardians may seek judicial remedies. However, if parents are not successful resolving complaints at the building or district levels, then they are encouraged to utilize the AEA Resolution Facilitator Process.

If a parent inquires about Section 504, the school should provide the parent with a copy of parental and student rights under Section 504. If a student is found ineligible for special education services under IDEA, the school should inform the student and parents of their right to an evaluation under Section 504. The school should also provide the student’s parents with a copy of parental and student rights under Section 504.

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The Equity/Section 504 Coordinator for the district is typically the contact to initiate the grievance process. The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has authority to enforce rights under Section 504.

The Office for Civil Rights for Iowa is located at:

Chicago Office Office for Civil Rights
U.S. Department of Education
Citigroup Center
500 W. Madison Street, Suite 1475
Chicago, IL 60661
Telephone: 312-730-1560
FAX: 312-730-1576; TDD: 877-521-2172

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