Section 504 is part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. It is a national civil rights law that protects qualified individuals from discrimination based on their disabilities. It is designed to eliminate discrimination in programs and activities that receive federal funds. Since all public schools receive federal funding, all public school districts must comply with Section 504.
Section 504 is not meant to maximize a student's potential. It is meant to level the playing field so that disabled students have the opportunity to participate and benefit from educational academic and extra curricular programs. It requires school districts to meet the needs of disabled students as adequately as the needs of non-disabled students. Because Section 504 seeks equality of opportunity and benefit between the disabled and non-disabled students, it relies on making comparisons between the student being evaluated with his/her non-disabled peers.
Section 504 requires school districts to provide free appropriate public education (FAPE) to each qualified student within the district who has a disability that substantially limits his/her participation in or benefit from programs and activities, regardless of the severity of the disability.
Section 504 Compliance
It is the policy of the Northshore School District to provide a free and appropriate public education to each student with a disability in its jurisdiction, regardless of the nature or severity of the student’s physical or mental disability.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a civil rights law which protects the rights of individuals with disabilities in programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance from the U.S. Department of Education. A child is a “qualified disabled person” under Section 504 if he or she (1) has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major activities (such as caring for one’s self, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating and working), has a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment; and (2) is between the years of 3 to 21 years old.
The board recognizes the need for collaboration between parents, school personnel and medical personnel in developing a student’s educational objectives. Every effort will be made to cooperatively integrate information pertinent to student functioning levels.
It is the intent of the district to ensure that students who are disabled under section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 are identified, evaluated, and provided with appropriate educational services, and that the parents or guardians of such students are provided notice of their procedural due process rights. Students may be regarded as disabled under this policy even though they are not eligible for services pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA).
The district will comply with the federal policies that require free appropriate public education, childfind, equal educational opportunity, confidentiality of information, parent involvement, participation in least restrictive environment, evaluations, placement, reevaluation, programming to meet individual needs, placement procedures, nonacademic services, preschool and adult education programs, disciplinary exclusion, transportation, procedural requirements, appropriate funding, accessibility, special issues related to drug or alcohol addicted students, special considerations for students having AIDS or HIV infection, and special issues related to ADD/ADHD students.
The superintendent/designee will establish procedures to ensure that students who are disabled within the definition of Section 504 are educated in full compliance with the law.
Section 504 Compliance
Section 504 requires school districts to provide free appropriate public education (FAPE) to each qualified student within the district who has a disability that substantially limits his/her participation in or benefit from programs and activities. Childfind: The district will annually undertake to identify and locate all children with disabilities, aged birth to 21, who reside in the district's jurisdiction who are not receiving a public education and take appropriate steps to notify disabled children and their parents or guardians of the district‟s responsibilities under Section 504.
Process and Procedures
Northshore School District maintains the following Section 504 Process and Procedures:
- Referral for Section 504 evaluation
- Decide whether to evaluate. If "yes", obtain parent consent for evaluation
- Evaluate the student
- Assemble 504 team (persons knowledgeable about the student, placement options and the meaning of the evaluation data) to review all possible data available i.e. district evaluations, parent provided evaluations, teacher reports, report cards, etc.
- Evaluate the specific areas of the student‟s educational needs
- Determine student's eligibility
- Review evaluation results
- Complete 504 Student Eligibility Determination Form
- Provide parent/guardian Notice of Action/Consent and Notice of Rights 5. Develop a Section 504 plan for the student
- Develop a Section 504 plan; may combine with eligibility meeting
- Assign a case manager to monitor and implement student progress
- Provide parent/guardian Notice of Action and Notice of Rights form
- Obtain written consent for initial placement
- Implementation and Monitor Section 504 Plan
- Review and revise the student‟s Section 504 plan annually, providing parent/guardian Notice of Action/Consent and Notice of Rights
The district will establish and implement procedural safeguards to be provided to parent/guardians with respect to actions regarding identification, evaluation or educational placement of persons who, because of disability, need, or are believed to need, special instruction or related services. Procedural safeguards will include:
- Notice of parental/guardian rights;
- An opportunity to examine relevant records;
- An impartial hearing initiated by either the parents/guardian or the school district, with opportunity for participation by the student‟s parent/guardians. The student / parent / guardian is entitled to have representation by legal counsel; and
- A review procedure.
School districts must provide for an impartial hearing, to review evaluation and placement decision, with the opportunity for participation by parents and representational counsel. There is no mediation requirement under Section 504.
Referrals and Parent Consent
Parents, teachers and other school staff can refer students to the school's designated Section 504 team for evaluation. Schools will also make efforts to identify students who potentially could qualify under Section 504. Section 504 requires written parental permission for the initial evaluation for eligibility once the student has been referred to the team for evaluation. If the screening team determines that an evaluation is not necessary, it will provide written notice to parents, and forward the results of the screening to the source of the referral. If the parent refuses consent for an initial evaluation and the school district suspects that the student has a disability that substantially limits his/her participation in and/or benefit from the district's programs and activities, the district may use due process hearing procedures to override the parent's denial of consent. Once consent has been obtained, the Section 504 team can begin the evaluation process.
Section 504 defines disability as a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities. This definition of disability should be interpreted broadly.
Major life activities are activities that are important to most people’s daily lives. Caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, working, eating, sleeping, standing, bending, reading, concentrating, thinking, and communicating are some examples of major life activities. Major life activities also include major bodily functions, such as functions of the digestive, bowel, bladder, brain, circulatory, reproductive, neurological, or respiratory systems. Substantially limits should also be interpreted broadly. A student’s impairment does not need to prevent, or severely or significantly restrict, a major life activity to be substantially limiting.
Mitigating measures cannot be considered when evaluating whether or not a student has a substantially limiting impairment. Mitigating measures could include medications, prosthetic devices, assistive devices, or learned behavioral or adaptive neurological modifications a student uses to eliminate or reduce the effects of an impairment. An impairment that is episodic or in remission remains a disability if, when in an active phase, this impairment substantially limits a major life activity.
A Section 504 team should be composed of persons knowledgeable about the student‟s disability and the meaning of the evaluation data and service options. The team will convene to review all evaluation results, determine eligibility as a student with a disability under Section 504 and document the meeting in writing. The team composition may vary according to the needs of the student.
In regard to out-of-district placements, if the district affords a free appropriate education to a student but the parent chooses to place the child elsewhere, the district is not responsible to pay for the out-of-district placement.
Determining whether a student is a qualified disabled student under Section 504 begins with an evaluation process. The school‟s Section 504 team determines the amount of information required for the evaluation. The team must draw data from a variety of sources to minimize the possibility of error. These sources and factors may include aptitude and achievement tests, grades, teacher recommendations, observations, physical conditions, adaptive behavior, medical diagnosis of an illness, known or suspected physical or mental impairments. A medical diagnosis alone is not sufficient in determining a student‟s eligibility under Section 504. Once the school 504 team has gathered all the pertinent data and information, it determines whether the student‟s disability qualified him or her under Section 504. If the parents disagree with the 504 team‟s determination, they can request a due process hearing.
Section 504 Plans
The accommodations, selected by the Section 504 team, are meant to meet the disabled student's individual educational needs as adequately as the needs of non-disabled students are met. Accommodations are not meant to maximize a disabled student‟s potential or provide the "best" education program that can be designed for the disabled student. “Accommodations are reasonable when they provide students with disabilities an equal opportunity to participate without lowering or fundamentally altering a school district's standards or procedures (Elaine Eberharter-Maki, Esq.: October 2006).”
Placement on a Section 504 plan for an eligible student with a disability refers to the student receiving appropriate accommodations designed to meet that student's individual needs to the same extent as the needs of students without disabilities are met. Teachers are required to implement the provisions of the 504 Plans for students in their classrooms.
Periodic re-evaluation is required once a student is identified as eligible under Section 504. Although not required by Section 504, it is recommended that schools review a student's 504 plan to determine whether changes are necessary due to changes in schedules or to changes in the student‟s abilities or disabilities. Section 504 does require a school to conduct a re-evaluation prior to a significant change of placement.
It is Northshore School District's practice to re-evaluate each student's Section 504 plan annually. Students in transition years (5th grade to 6th grade; 8th grade to 9th grade) will have their existing 504 plans re-evaluated by November 30th of the new school year.
A service animal is any animal that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities such as guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling wheelchairs, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure or performing other special tasks. The task must be directly related to the person's disability.
Use of a service animal by a student with a disability will be allowed to assist or accommodate access to the instructional program, schools services and/or school activities.
Before a service animal is permitted in school, on school property, or at school sponsored events, the parent/guardian/adult student must provide a description of the task(s) the service animal is expected to perform in assisting the person with a disability. Form 2163A is to be used for this purpose.
The service animal must be in control of the person with a disability and wear a harness, leash, or tether unless that interferes with a service animal‟s work or the student‟s disability. In that event, the student or handler must maintain control through voice, signal, or other effective controls. (Title II of the ADA, 28 C.F.R. § 35.136).
The care and supervision of a service animal is solely the responsibility of the student or handler. School district staff is not responsible for the cost, care or supervision of a student's service animal. (Title II of the ADA, 28 C.F.R. § 35.136). The owner/handler of the service animal is responsible for any and all damage caused by the service animal at school, on school premises, school busses or at school activities.
Parents or handlers who will be present in school for the purpose of assisting a student with his/her service animal are required to submit to a sex offender registry and criminal background check. In addition, parents and handlers much comply with all standards of conduct that apply to school employees and volunteers.
The building principal or district administrator may request the service animal be removed from school, a school sponsored activity, or school property if the animal is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control the animal. Examples include, but are not limited to the following:
- The presence of the animal poses a direct threat to the health and/or safety of others;
- The animal significantly disrupts or interferes with the instructional program, school activity, or student learning. However, annoyance of the part of others does not justify removal;
- The presence of the animal would result in a fundamental alteration of any school program;
- The individual in control of the animal fails to appropriately care for the animal, including feeding, exercising, taking outside for performance of excretory functions and cleaning up after the animal;
- The animal fails to consistently perform the function(s)/services(s) to assist or accommodate the individual with the disability;
- The animal is ill; and/or
- The animal is not housebroken
If the district excludes a service animal, it will provide the individual with a disability the opportunity to participate in the service, program, or activity without the service animal on the premises.
A parent/adult student whose animal has been excluded or removed may appeal the decision to the Superintendent or designee.
Animals whose sole function is to provide comfort, emotional support, or companionship do not qualify as service animals. A request by a person with a disability for an animal that does not meet the service animal definition will be processed through the building 504 or IEP team. All requirements for the animal as outlined in this policy would apply.