Nebraska's Tool Kit for Systems Involved in the Education of Students in Out-of-Home Care

Tool A-1:  Frequently Asked Questions
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Student Assistance Teams

Part Six: Diverse Student Populations
Section A. Students with Disabilities/Section 504


three teens smiling and looking at laptop computerThe following summarizes questions about Section 504 of the federal Rehabilitation Act and Student Assistance Teams (SAT) often posed by the primary systems involved in the education of students in out-of-home care. The responses are based on federal law, Nebraska statute, administrative rules, regulations and State agency memoranda. However, in some cases, the response may be primarily dictated by the individual student's situation and needs. Familiarity and discussion with the school as to how its policies, procedures and protocols may relate to a particular child or youth under a specific set of circumstances is recommended as a matter of "best practice" and may greatly assist in advocating for that student and achievement of his or her academic and vocational goals.

For more information about Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Student Assistance Teams, refer to the Nebraska Department of Education website: http://www.education.ne.gov/

Please note, the following information has been adapted from "Frequently Asked Questions about Section 504 and the Education of Children with Disabilities" by the United States Department of Education – Office of Civil Rights (OCR), and "Parent's Guide to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act" by Paul W. Gentle, Director of Student Attendance and Discipline, Poway Unified School District (San Diego, California).

 

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act


1. What is Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act?
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act is the part of the federal civil rights law prohibiting discrimination based on a person's disability. It was originally enacted in 1973 to eliminate barriers excluding people with disabilities. Section 504 applies to all entities receiving federal funds, including public schools, governmental agencies and places of public accommodation. Section 504 is enforced by the United States Department of Education - Office of Civil Rights (OCR).

2. What is the difference between eligibility for education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act?
The Rehabilitation Act, which includes Section 504, is a federal civil rights law pre-dating the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. IDEA is the federal law which provides funding for individualized special education programs and additional services beyond those available to students without disabilities. Unlike IDEA, school districts receive no additional federal or State funding through Section 504.

IDEA applies to students within specific categories of disabilities and degrees of impairment. While the provisions of Section 504 protect individuals with disabilities far beyond those covered by IDEA, it also protects every student who is eligible for special education and related services under IDEA. Conversely, some students with disabilities who are eligible for services under Section 504 may also be eligible under IDEA.

For more information about Students with Disabilities and Special Education, refer to Nebraska Department of Education's "Rule 51: Regulations and Standards for Special Education Programs": http://www.education.ne.gov/legal/webrulespdf/CLEAN51_2010.pdf

Additional information is provided in the Systems Tool Kit - Part Six, Section B.

 

3. Who is a considered a student with a disability under Section 504?
Section 504 applies to an individual who has, had, or is perceived as having a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one (1) or more major life activities, such as: caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning or working. This includes students whose disabilities limit their ability to attend, participate in, or receive benefit from their education.

Unlike the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Section 504 does not specifically list qualifying disabilities, although it does provide examples such as: diseases and conditions involving orthopedic, visual, speech or hearing impairments; cerebral palsy; epilepsy; muscular dystrophy; multiple sclerosis; cancer; heart disease; diabetes; mental retardation; emotional illness; and alcohol or drug addiction. Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), learning disabilities, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), cystic fibrosis, severe allergies and asthma have also been recognized. Rather than focusing on the type of disability, Section 504 examines the extent to which the student's disability substantially limits a major life activity compared to an average individual in the general population.

4. What rights are provided under Section 504?
Under Section 504, a student may take part in and receive benefit from public education programs without discrimination based on his or her disability. This includes the school district ensuring the availability of a "free appropriate public education" (FAPE) for the student at no cost to the parent. More specifically, Section 504 affords students with disabilities the following rights:

  • The school must advise the student and the parents of their rights under Section 504.

  • Evaluation, educational placement and programming decisions are made based on information from a variety of sources by individuals who know the student, the disability, evaluation data and educational placement options.

  • The student and the parents must receive notice and may examine the school's records regarding identification of the disability, evaluation, educational placement and programming.
  • The student's education must be designed to provide academic benefit despite the disability in an environment which affords the greatest exposure to non-disabled peers, to the maximum extent appropriate.

  • The student must be educated in facilities and receive services comparable to those provided to students without disabilities.

  • The school must make reasonable accommodations to allow the student equal opportunity to participate in school and related activities.

  • The student must be provided the opportunity to receive interventions and accommodations under Section 504, or special education and related services if found to be eligible under IDEA.

  • The parents may file a grievance with the school if they feel the student is being discriminated against based on his or her disability.

  • The parents may request a due process hearing and/or the assistance of a mediator to help resolve issues with the school.

  • The parents may file a formal complaint with the United States Department of Education - Office of Civil Rights.

5. What are some examples of accommodations under Section 504?
Accommodations are adjustments individually designed to meet a student's unique needs and minimize the impact of his or her disability. For the most part, accommodations are inexpensive and utilize good teaching practices and classroom management strategies. There is no single list of approved accommodations under Section 504. However, some examples of accommodations include:

  • Classroom seating to minimize distractions for a student with attention or concentration difficulties;
  • Extra time or a quiet setting for taking tests;
  • Time extension on assignments;
  • Assisting a student with diabetes in monitoring blood sugar levels; or
  • An alternative home-study curriculum and increased communication with the parents of a student who cannot attend school regularly due to chronic health problems.

6. What are some examples of discriminatory practices prohibited by Section 504 in a school setting?
Some examples of those types of discriminatory practices include:

  • Not providing accessible transportation on field trips and school-sponsored activities for a student who uses a wheelchair;
  • Refusing to allow a student with a disability the opportunity to try out or participate in school-sponsored athletics, intramurals, performing arts, clubs or other extracurricular activities;
  • Penalizing a student whose absenteeism is related to his or her disability; or
  • Expelling a student for behavior related to his or her disability.

 

504 Evaluations


1. What is an evaluation under Section 504?
A 504 Evaluation involves the school's Student Assistance Team (SAT), 504 Team or other comparable problem-solving team reviewing information from a variety of sources to determine if the student has a disability and is eligible for education services under Section 504.

2. When should a student be referred for a 504 Evaluation?
School staff and administrators have a responsibility to ensure all students with disabilities are identified, evaluated and provided with education services, interventions and/or accommodations, as needed and appropriate. If a student is experiencing any of the following, he or she should be referred for a 504 Evaluation:

  • Chronic academic, behavioral, mental or physical health problems;
  • Other issues impacting academic performance;
  • A known or suspected disability; or
  • Other interventions to address the above circumstances have been unsuccessful.

3. Who can request a 504 Evaluation for a student?
A referral for a 504 Evaluation can be initiated by the student's parent or guardian, physician, psychiatrist or psychologist, audiologist, or other medical or mental health professional as well as the school's Student Assistance Team, a teacher, School Counselor, School Social Worker, School Nurse or other staff.

It is not uncommon for a school to receive a doctor's letter indicating a student has a disability and needs certain accommodations. While the school always considers the recommendations of medical and mental health professionals, it remains the school's responsibility to determine Section 504 eligibility and implement any necessary interventions and/or accommodations for the student. Simply having an impairment does not automatically qualify a student for education services under Section 504.

 

Students Assistance Teams


1. What is a Student Assistance Team (SAT)?
A Student Assistance Team, also known as a 504 Team, is a group of individuals who identify problem-solving strategies, interventions and/or accommodations to be used by the teacher in a general education classroom to assist a student with a disability be more successful academically. SAT members include the student's teachers and other individuals knowledgeable about the student, the type of disability, expected performance of same-age peers, the evaluative data being reviewed, types of education services and accommodation options. In some cases, school administrators and students are included on the SAT. (Source: Nebraska Department of Education - Title 92 NAC Chapter 51-003.65 and 51-006.01C)

2. What does a Student Assistance Team do?
Once a student is referred for a 504 Evaluation, the Student Assistance Team meets to determine the child or youth's eligibility under Section 504. The SAT reviews information from a variety of sources to determine if the student has a disability, such as: parents, teachers, medical and mental health care providers, grade reports, standardized test scores, attendance records and disciplinary reports. Because Section 504 does not provide a definitive "list" of qualifying disabilities, the SAT must use their collective professional judgment to make the eligibility determination.

If the 504 Evaluation indicates the student has a disability, the SAT identifies and documents strategies, interventions and/or accommodations which may help improve academic performance in a written 504 Plan. Those interventions and accommodations are periodically reviewed by the SAT to determine their effectiveness.

If the SAT determines the strategies, interventions and/or accommodations have resulted in the student's improved academic performance, no consideration of eligibility for special education under IDEA is pursued. However, if the student's performance has not improved and all viable alternatives have been explored, the SAT may recommend further evaluation for a disability under IDEA be conducted by the school's Multidisciplinary Team (MDT). If this occurs, the information gathered and a listing of the SAT members is passed on to the MDT. (Source: Nebraska Department of Education - Title 92 NAC Chapter 51-006.01C)

3. What is the difference between a Student Assistance Team and a Multidisciplinary Team (MDT)?
While both the Student Assistance Team and Multidisciplinary Team are included on a continuum of determining what supports are appropriate and needed for a student, the SAT's focus is on problem-solving strategies, interventions and accommodations which occur in the realm of general education. A SAT, 504 Team or other comparable problem-solving team must be used before referring a school age child or youth known or suspected of having a disability on to a MDT for further evaluation and determination of special education eligibility under IDEA. (Source: Nebraska Department of Education - Title 92 NAC Chapter 51-006.01C)

For more information about Multidisciplinary Teams and Special Education Evaluations, refer to the Nebraska Department of Education's "Rule 51: Regulations and Standards for Special Education Programs": http://www.education.ne.gov/legal/webrulespdf/CLEAN51_2010.pdf

Additional information is provided in the Systems Tool Kit - Part Six, Section B.

 

4. Does the student's Juvenile Services Officer (JSO) or Caseworker (DHHS or private contractor), Probation Officer, Court-Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer, or out-of-home caregiver have a role in the 504 Evaluation process?
Yes. All those individuals are in a position to provide relevant information to the Student Assistance Team regarding the student's academic, behavioral, mental and physical health and any other problems or issues which may impact his or her academic performance. They may also have insight as to what problem-solving strategies, interventions and accommodations would be most effective for that particular student.

 

504 Plans


1. What is a 504 Plan and who is responsible for its development?
If a student is found to have a disability under Section 504, the Student Assistance Team makes an individualized determination of the child's educational needs and develops a written plan specifying the appropriate strategies, interventions and/or accommodations to be provided in the general education classroom. The 504 Plan also specifically identifies the teacher(s) and any other individuals responsible for its implementation.

2. How often is a student's 504 Plan reviewed and who is responsible for this?
The Student Assistance Team generally reviews the student's eligibility status and 504 Plan at least annually.

3. When is a 504 Plan inappropriate for a student?
Some examples of when a 504 Plan is inappropriate include:

  • The student does not meet eligibility criteria under Section 504, such as: a student who is doing well in school but may not be working to his or her potential, a student whose parents feel he or she could be getting A's rather than B's, or a student who only experiences difficulty in one (1) subject area;

  • The student is eligible under Section 504 but functioning well academically and making adequate progress without interventions or accommodations;

  • The 504 Plan would be developed for the sole reason of providing the student with extended time on college entrance exams; or

  • The student is eligible for special education and related services under IDEA but the parents prefer education services under Section 504.

4. What should a student or parents do if they have a complaint regarding implementation of Section 504?
Most concerns a student or parent may have can be resolved within the school by working with the Principal, Student Assistance Team or other staff. Should the issue not be resolved and the parents wish to file a complaint, they should follow the school district's grievance procedures. If unsatisfied, the next step would be requesting a due process hearing under Section 504. Copies of those procedures are available at each school. Complaints may also be filed directly with the United States Department of Education - Office of Civil Rights.

 

 

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