504 Accommodations in Schools
Sometimes students with certain mental and physical disabilities do not qualify as disabled under traditional state or federal laws, but may still need special accommodations to fully succeed in school. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a federal law that bans discrimination against people with disabilities. In the school setting, “504 accommodations” refer to simple, inexpensive changes a school must take to allow students with disabilities the chance to succeed in a classroom setting.
While Section 504 does not require schools to provide individualized educational programs -- like those required under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) -- it is a federal law that schools are expected to follow.
What Constitutes a “Disability”?
According to Section 504, a student is said to have a disability if the student has “a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one of more major life activities, has a record of such impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment.” This may include a broad range of disabilities – including Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), epilepsy, food allergies, dwarfism, bi-polar disease and many more. Under these circumstances, schools may not ban or prevent students from obtaining the full benefits of a solid education based on a student’s disability and reasonable request for accommodations.
What are “Reasonable Accommodations”?
Section 504 requires schools to make “reasonable accommodations” to help people with disabilities perform effectively. Under Section 504, schools may not ban or refuse to allow a student to participate in activities without making any reasonable effort to accommodate the student reasonably.
Examples of reasonable 504 accommodations may include:
- Allowing a student in a wheelchair to leave the classroom a few minutes early to account for longer passing time
- Providing a student who is visually impaired books with larger print to keep up with schoolwork
- Allowing a person with ADD or other learning disability extra time for test taking
- Providing a student with low-distraction work areas
- Preparing a student for upcoming changes in routine
- Allowing a student with hyperactivity to keep a small object in their desk to manipulate quietly
It's important to note that it is the teacher’s responsibility to quietly and discreetly provide a student’s accommodation without drawing any undue attention to the student.
How to Request Reasonable 504 Accommodations
Public schools are generally required to have a designated 504 coordinator. If you are a parent seeking reasonable 504 accommodations for your child, you must first locate your school’s 504 coordinator and request accommodations in writing. Your letter should detail the nature of your child’s disability and make specific suggestions on accommodations that would work for him or her. The 504 coordinator should then schedule a meeting with you and your child’s teacher within 30 days, and work toward a plan to provide the requested accommodation.
What to Do If You Are Denied Reasonable 504 Accommodations
Most states allow you to bring a claim of disability discrimination against schools who deny requests for reasonable accommodations for a disabled child. If you are denied such reasonable accommodations, an attorney should be consulted regarding the applicable statutes of limitations and procedural requirements for bringing a claim of enforcement.
Generally, claims of enforcement are available at the federal Office of Civil rights, which have locations through your state’s agency. To speak with a lawyer directly, you may wish to contact an experienced education law attorney in your area who can advise you of your specific rights.
For a detailed explanation of how 504 Accommodations laws apply to private schools, click here.