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Section 504

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, commonly called “Section 504,” is a federal law that protects students from discrimination based on disability. Section 504 assures that students with disabilities have educational opportunities and benefits equal to those provided to students without disabilities. To be eligible, a student must have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity. 

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (“Section 504”) provides: “No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States…shall, solely by reason of his or her disability, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance. (29 U.S.C. § 794 (a)).” A school district, as a recipient of federal funds, is required to comply with the provisions of Section 504 with respect to its students.

In order to qualify for services under Section 504, a student must be a qualified individual with a disability who (i) has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more of such person’s major life activities, (ii) has a record of such impairment, or (iii) is regarded as having such an impairment” (29 U.S.C. § 705 (20); 34 C.F.R. 104.3 (j) (1)). The second and third prongs of this provision protect from discrimination those students who may in fact not have a disability, but who have a history of a disability or are perceived by others to have a disability.

Section 504 at North Thurston Public Schools

A school-based 504 team reviewing a student’s possible eligibility under this statute must apply the statutory language to determine whether a student qualifies as a 504 student for an accommodation plan. The members of the 504 team must include those persons who have information and knowledge relevant to the determination of the student’s eligibility. It is the responsibility of 504 team members to review the eligibility criteria and determine whether a student is eligible under Section 504. This is accomplished by addressing four questions:

  • Does the student have a physical or mental impairment?
  • Is there a major life activity affected by physical or mental impairment?
  • Does the physical or mental impairment substantially limit one or more major life activities, e.g., self-care, seeing, breathing, hearing, speaking, walking, learning, or performing manual tasks?
  • Does the student have a record of a physical or mental impairment, or is the student regarded as having an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities?

The mere existence of a physical or mental impairment, hidden or transparent, does not automatically qualify a student for accommodation under Section 504. The Office of Civil Rights has confirmed that the decision regarding whether a student qualifies for Section 504 can be made only by the 504 team. Each 504 team must make individualized determinations for each student as to eligibility under Section 504. If eligibility is found, the 504 team must design reasonable accommodations based upon the specific needs of the student. Thus, a student with a diagnosis of ADHD may or may not require a Section 504 plan, depending upon whether the team determines that the ADHD substantially limits a major life activity. For those students found to be eligible with the same diagnosis, the accommodations for one student may well differ from the accommodations provided for another student.

All individuals who qualify for services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) are also protected under Section 504. However, all individuals who are covered by Section 504 may not qualify for services under IDEA.

The IDEA defines as eligible only students who have certain specified types of disabilities and who, because of one of those conditions, need special education (specially designed instruction). Section 504, on the other hand, protects students with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities (including learning). Section 504 covers all students who meet this definition, even if they do not fall within the IDEA enumerated categories and even if they do not need to be in a special education program.

An example of a student who is protected by Section 504, but who may not be covered by the IDEA, is one who has juvenile arthritis but who is not eligible for special education and related services through IDEA. Such a student has a health impairment, but may not be covered by the IDEA if he/she is not eligible to receive specially designed instruction (special education). However, the student may be covered by Section 504. A similar example might be a student with a history of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). Students with attention deficit disorder (ADD) provide another example. Such students may not meet the criteria for IDEA categories. However, if their physical or mental impairments substantially limit their ability to learn at school, they qualify as disabled within the meaning of Section 504 and must be provided with the accommodations necessary to benefit from a free appropriate public education.

If a district has reason to believe that, because of a physical or mental impairment as defined under Section 504, a student needs either special accommodations or related services in the regular setting in order to participate in school programs, the district must evaluate the student. If the student is determined to be disabled under Section 504, the district must develop and implement a plan for the delivery of necessary and reasonable accommodations. These steps must be taken even though the student is not covered by the IDEA.

Under Section 504, the parent or guardian must be provided with notice of actions affecting the identification, evaluation, or placement of the student. Parents are entitled to an impartial hearing if they disagree with district decisions in these areas. For disabilities covered only by Section 504 and not the IDEA, a Section 504 hearing will be made available.

In summary, some students who have physical or mental impairments that limit their ability to access and participate in the educational program to the same extent as their non-disabled peers, are covered under Section 504 even though they may not be covered by the IDEA.

The administrator responsible for the coordination of Section 504 activities for students attending North Thurston Public Schools is Sarah Rich, Executive Director of Student Achievement. Classroom teachers, counselors, school health personnel, building administrators, the superintendent, and the Section 504 Coordinator are responsible for implementation of the District's responsibilities under Section 504.

If you have questions or concerns regarding a Section 504 Accommodation Plan or you would like to discuss a 504 plan for your student, please contact your student's school counselor or school nurse (for medical related plans). You can also email for assistance.

NTPS Board Policies: Policy 2162 and Procedure 2162P

Your Rights Under Section 504