Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a federal statute that prohibits discrimination based upon a disability. Section 504 ensures that eligible disabled students receive opportunities and benefits and have equal access to facilities in the same manner as their nondisabled peers. School districts must provide an appropriate education for each disabled student with reasonable accommodations that allow access to the benefits of public education.
Students who are protected under Section 504 must be determined to:
- Have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity
- Have a record of such an impairment
- Be regarded as having an impairment
Eligibility for a Section 504 Accommodation Plan is determined using a 3-pronged approach that considers if the student:
- Has a physical or mental impairment ...
- That substantially limits ...
- A major life activity.
Eligibility for accommodations under Section 504 will be determined by a Team of people with knowledge about the student. In order to be considered disabled under Section 504, all three prongs need to accurately reflect the student within the school setting.
Under Section 504, major life activities are considered as the following:
- caring for one's self
- performing manual tasks
When an impairment does not substantially limit one or more of the above major life activities, a student does not qualify for classroom accommodations under Section 504. It is important for families and school personnel to have conversations about instructional strategies that are utilized routinely for all students and that meet the needs of diverse learners.
Information from the Office for Civil Rights, based upon the 2008 amendments to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), clarifies that a temporary impairment does not constitute as a disability except under certain conditions. Along with the conditions as discussed in the 3-prong eligibility process, the expected duration of the impairment needs to be considered. Through the amendment of ADA, Congress determined that the duration of an impairment expected to last less than 6 months does not constitute a disability.
When considering eligibility under Section 504, it is important to note the following:
A 504 Plan is not designed to fundamentally alter the program, standards, or what students are expected to know and be able to do.
A 504 Plan is meant to give all students equal access to their program; it is not designed to equalize outcomes or provide advantage
The Eligibility Determination Process
Each school in Bedford has a Section 504 Coordinator. The Coordinator will be responsible to implement the eligibility process. The Coordinator will determine a Team for each student based upon the nature of the suspected disability and the presenting questions regarding the student's needs. A 504 Eligibility Team consists of people who:
Have knowledge about the student
Have knowledge about the evaluation data and information
Have knowledge about accommodations that may be discussed
Step 1. Referral
When parents or school staff suspects a student may have a disability, a written referral must be presented to the appropriate school building designee. Parents of elementary age students should discuss this referral process with the building principal or his/her designee. At John Glenn Middle School and Bedford High School, parents should contact their child's guidance counselor.
Step 2. Evaluation and Documentation
Evaluations will be proposed after school personnel review the referral information. With prior parent consent, the Bedford Public Schools will conduct an evaluation that will include school district assessments and review of other relevant information, e.g. grades, review of records, health information, and classroom participation and performance. The evaluation process may include formal testing conducted by highly credentialed school personnel. Evaluations conducted by school personnel will be administered during the school day and may result in the student missing some instructional time.
Should the school district determine that formal evaluations are needed, consent from parents will be required. Upon receipt of parent consent to conduct the evaluation, the school district has 45 school days to complete the evaluations and hold a 504 Eligibility Meeting.
There are times when families may present to the school district a report from an independent evaluator. Although the Team will consider the findings from independent educational evaluations, the Bedford Public Schools reserves the right to conduct our own evaluations.
Should the family wish to present information from outside sources, the following checklist will help ensure that all appropriate information is available for the 504 Eligibility Team to review at least 2 school days prior to the eligibility meeting.
____ Statement regarding the nature of the suspected disability
____ Independent evaluation reports that are current (within one year)
____ Professional credentials of the evaluators must be presented
____ Relevant educational, developmental and medical history
____ Description of how the suspected disability substantially limits the student's ability to learn and/or access his/her school environment (for high school age students, a statement from the student is suggested)
Step 3. Team Review to Determine Eligibility
The 504 Eligibility Team will schedule a meeting to determine eligibility for a Section 504 Accommodation Plan. The entire Team will consider all provided assessment reports and information from the variety of sources. The 3-pronged eligibility criteria will guide the process to determine a student has a disability under Section 504. The Team will be conscious that an impairment may not meet the threshold of a disability under the federal eligibility guidelines as mentioned above.
Questions that the Team will consider at the meeting will include:
What is the nature and severity of the impairment?
What is the suspected duration of the impairment?
How has the student responded to any prior interventions?
Does the student consistently need extended time to complete assignments?
Does the student consistently need significant changes made to the curriculum and/or physical school environment?
Does the student demonstrate consistent behavior difficulties?
Should the 504 Eligibility Team determine a student is eligible for a Section 504 Accommodation Plan, the Team will develop the plan collaboratively. Accommodations included in the Section 504 Plan will:
Be considered as necessary.
Be determined by the Team.
Not be developed to provide advantage.
Not fundamentally alter the program, standards, or what students are supposed to know and be able to do.
The completed Plan will be implemented immediately. Section 504 Accommodation Plans in Massachusetts do not require a parent/guardian's signature. All teachers and other school personnel with a "need to know" status will be informed of the accommodations included in the Plan.
Should the Team find the student not eligible for a Section 504 Plan, the Team will encourage the student and family to discuss with the teachers the differentiated instructional approaches and District Curriculum Accommodation Plan options that are implemented routinely within the classroom and that may be helpful to the student.
Furthermore, if the family disagrees with the findings of the Team, they may ask to reconvene the team or exercise their due process rights in accordance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
Notice of Parent and Student Rights under Section 504
Parents and students (when age appropriate) will receive written Notice of Parent and Student Rights under Section 504. The Bedford Public Schools encourages parents to review this document thoroughly.