What is a 504 Plan?
Not all children can be characterized as having a disability as defined by N.J.A.C. 6A:14-3.5(c) 1 through 14, making them eligible for special education. However, children who suffer from other special needs that may interfere with their learning may still be eligible to receive modifications and accommodations throughout their school day pursuant to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. §794. Section 504 provides services, educational programs, and accommodations to a broader range of children with disabilities and special needs.
Section 504 plans operate similarly to IEP plans and must be followed by school districts. They are designed to help students with various special needs during their school day so they can learn along with their peers. A student that may qualify for a 504 Plan may be a child with food allergies or another medical condition based on which they may not be able to participate in certain school related activities or based on which they can receive accommodations and modifications during their school day.
Qualifying for a Section 504 Plan
A child with a disability under Section 504 is one who “has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities; has a record of such impairment; or is regarding as having such an impairment.” Section 504 does not specify or list the disabilities covered under the Act. Instead, students who suffer from disabilities not covered under the categories of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act may qualify to the school for a Section 504 plan. The school then undertakes an evaluation of the student to determine if the student indeed has a disability that “substantially limits” “major life activities.”
“Major life activities” are defined under 34 C.F.R. 104(3)(j)(2)(ii) as “functions such as caring for one’s self, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working.”
A student’s parents or the school district staff can request the process for an evaluation to commence. If the school requests the evaluation process, then the students’ parents must be notified about the evaluation and give consent. It is required that parents be given an opportunity to take part in the evaluative process, including having an opportunity to examine relevant records, request an impartial hearing, and be represented by counsel at the hearing. Decisions made regarding a child’s Section 504 eligibility must be maintained in the student’s file in a confidential manner and reviewed periodically. Additionally, schools are required to establish periodic re-evaluation procedures.
What Does a Section 504 Plan Do?
Pursuant to Section 504, students are entitled to a free appropriate public education. This means that services under Section 504 shall be at no cost to the student or their parents. Under 34 C.F.R. 104.33 “appropriate education is defined as: “the provision of regular or special education and related aids and services that (i) are designed to meet individual educational needs of handicapped persons as adequately as the needs of nonhandicapped persons are met and (ii) are based upon adherence to procedures that satisfy the requirements of C.F.R. 104.34, 104.35, and 104.36.”
Students qualifying under Section 504 are to be placed with students without disabilities as often as possible. The school is required to make reasonable accommodations or modifications tailored to the child’s individual needs.
Disputing 504 Decisions
If parents disagree with a Section 504 Plan decision, they may seek to have the decision reviewed at an impartial hearing. The parents can file a request for a due process hearing. The District has to be placed on notice and will participate in the dispute.
Under Section 504, a child with a disability has a right to be free from discriminatory actions taken by the school district. A complaint investigation can be filed in the event there is an alleged violation of state or federal special education law. The complaint must be filed with the Office of Special Education Programs. A parent always has a right to mediate and or proceed with litigation related to the school district’s non-observance of their child’s 504 Plan.
For additional information about 504 plans in New Jersey or to arrange a consultation about your child’s potential 504 plan, contact The Elfant Rickett Law Firm at anytime 201.968.5700 or fill out our online form.