Section 504 and ADA Accommodations in the Schools

Representing Clients in New York & Nationwide

Although the IDEA provides for children with educational disabilities, there are many other disabilities that may make it difficult for your child to receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE), or for which your child may need accommodations, that are not covered under IDEA. If your child has one of these disabilities, school districts are required under Section 504 and/or the ADA to make reasonable and appropriate accommodations, and in some instances provide a FAPE, so that your child can take full advantage of educational and extracurricular activities associated with school.

If your child is not getting needed reasonable and appropriate accommodations, or is being denied an appropriate education, in the school setting, the lawyers of Goldstein, Ackerhalt & Pletcher, LLP can help. We can help you work with your school district to remove barriers that exclude, or limit, your child from full participation in all activities. To talk to a lawyer about how the ADA or Section 504 applies to your child's situation, please schedule a free initial consultation today.

What Are Section 504 and ADA?

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (generally referred to simply as "Section 504") is a federal law protecting individuals with disabilities from discrimination on the basis of those disabilities. This law applies to all organizations that receive financial assistance from any federal department or agency. Because all schools receive some form of federal funding, Section 504 applies.

When the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in 1990, it extended the reach of Section 504 protections to apply to all public and private entities that provide services to the public, essentially providing protection for individuals with disabilities against discrimination in almost all situations.

Who Is Protected?

If a child has an educational disability, that child is protected under the IDEA, and must receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in accordance with IDEA's mandates. However, children with other disabilities may also receive accommodations and a FAPE under Section 504 or ADA in schools to enable them to enjoy the same opportunities as children without disabilities.

In order to be eligible for protection under Section 504 or the ADA, a child must be evaluated to determine the existence of "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities."  Once the existence of a disability has been confirmed, the school district is required to remove obstacles, and provide necessary services and accommodations, that would prevent your child from enjoying a school experience that is, to the extent possible, comparable to that enjoyed by other students.

What Are the Limits of a School District’s Responsibility?

Section 504 states that schools must make "reasonable accommodation" for a child with disabilities. What constitutes reasonable accommodation has been interpreted in many ways, but some common principles used by courts in the past say that the accommodation should:

  • Meet the need or desire of the student to participate in common activities, both curricular and extracurricular
  • Not put any student at undue risk
  • Not interfere with other students' ability to participate in the same activities
  • Not interfere with the essential or fundamental purposes of the activities
  • Not put undue burden on the school district

The 504 regulations for public schools, in addition to requiring reasonable accommodation, require school districts to provide a free appropriate public education for Section 504 students. This is provided through a 504 Plan (like an IEP under IDEA).

Each school district is allowed to establish its own procedures for identifying and serving Section 504 students. However, most school districts use a procedure similar to that established under the IDEA, with a Section 504 team that meets to establish and regularly review a 504 plan.

Complaint Procedure

Ideally, parents and school officials should work together to find mutually-agreeable solutions to the problems. If a parent disagrees with a 504 Plan, or with a school district’s refusal to provide a 504 Plan, or a district’s implementation of a 504 Plan, or with how a child with a disability is treated, there is a right to a hearing. The parent can request an impartial hearing, and, if successful, the district must reimburse the parents for attorneys’ fees.

To learn more about your child's rights and the remedies allowed under the law, please contact Goldstein, Ackerhalt & Pletcher, LLP today for a free consultation.