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Section 504

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a major federal legislative act that is designed to protect the civil rights of individuals with disabilities. The intent of the law is to prevent any form of discrimination against individuals with disabilities who are otherwise qualified. Section 504 applies to entities that receive federal funds, virtually every entity except churches and private clubs.

Section 504 is beginning to have a major impact on public schools across the United States. Originally, Section 504, which was part of the broader 1973 Rehabilitation Act, was rarely addressed by school personnel to ensure equal educational opportunities. Public Law 94-142, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, passed in 1975, was the federal legislation that initially resulted in major changes in the way schools served children with disabilities. This law, now called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), was accompanied by federal funds, was the focal point of schools in serving children with disabilities, and Section 504, which provided no funding, were often considered less important for schools.

As parents and other advocates for children with disabilities learn more about Section 504, schools need to respond to requests for protections and services under these laws. There are several reasons Section 504 has become more prominent in public schools, but the primary reason is that Section 504 uses a different definition of disability and a different approach to eligibility than does the IDEA, resulting in many children who are not eligible under IDEA being protected by Section 504.

Understanding Section 504.

Section 504 is civil rights legislation for persons with disabilities. Section 504 prohibits discrimination against individuals who meet the definition of disability in the act, and it is applied to entities that receive federal funding. Section 504 is a relatively simple part of the Rehabilitation Act. Schools must ensure students with disabilities are provided with equal opportunities "to obtain the same result, to gain the same benefit, or to reach the same level of achievement" as students without disabilities. Section 504 applies only to entities that receive federal funds. Most public schools receive substantial federal funds through their participation in various federally supported activities, and as a result, they must comply with the provisions of Section 504.

Adapted from: LD Online Section 504, the ADA, and Public Schools By: Tom E.C. Smith (2001)

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For more information regarding implementation of Section 504, contact your District's 504 Coordinator.