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Protections for Children with 504 Plans

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On July 19, 2022, the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) released new guidance about schools not discriminating against students with disabilities, including behavior-related disabilities. The guidance applies to students with 504 plans and covers children with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs).

Students with 504 plans have disabilities that make it difficult to access the curriculum – in other words, to access the materials they need to learn. Once these students have access to the curriculum, they can learn like students without disabilities. Students with IEPs have disabilities that affect their learning ability even when they can access the curriculum.

Keep in mind that it is how the disability affects the child’s ability to learn, not the specific disability, that determines if a child qualifies for either a 504 plan or an IEP. Students with 504 plans and those with IEPs both have the right to a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).

The guidance document explains information and rights related to students with disabilities with 504 Plans. Students with IEPs have these protections as well as additional protections under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA):

“Section 504 applies to elementary and secondary public schools (including public charter schools and State-operated schools), public school districts, State educational agencies (SEAs), and private schools and juvenile justice residential facilities that receive Federal financial assistance from the Department.”

“Section 504 prohibits recipients from discriminating against a “qualified person with a disability” on the basis of disability in the recipients’ Federally assisted programs or activities.”

“Recipients must ensure that their employees and all who participate in providing the recipients’ educational program or activity under a contractual, licensing, or other arrangement do so in a nondiscriminatory manner.”

“This guidance addresses the rights and responsibilities concerning FAPE under Section 504 that apply to Section 504-only students, as well as the general nondiscrimination responsibilities under Section 504 that apply to all students with disabilities, including IDEA-eligible students.”

“Section 504 requires a recipient that operates a public elementary or secondary education program to provide FAPE to each qualified student with a disability, regardless of the nature or severity of the disability. To provide FAPE under Section 504, schools must offer regular or special education, and related aids and services, that: (1) are designed to meet the student’s individual educational needs as adequately as the needs of students without disabilities are met, and (2) satisfy Section 504 FAPE requirements for evaluation and placement, educational setting, and procedural safeguards.”

“A group of knowledgeable persons, which can include the student’s parents or guardians, develops an individualized plan addressing the services the team has identified as necessary to provide the student FAPE.”

“Section 504 plans generally describe the specific services the student needs, who will provide the services, how they will be provided, and the setting in which the student will receive the services.”

“Section 504 requires that a school district educate a student with a disability in an academic setting alongside students without disabilities to the maximum extent appropriate for the needs of the student with a disability.”

“Under Section 504, evaluations must be conducted by trained personnel and interpreted by a group of knowledgeable persons, and based on relevant information from a variety of sources.”

“Where a student’s evaluation shows that challenging behavior is caused by or directly and substantially related to the student’s disability or disabilities, the placement decision by the Section 504 team must identify individualized services, such as behavioral supports, to meet the student’s educational needs.”

“Schools are required under Section 504 to develop and implement a system of procedural safeguards to enable parents or guardians to challenge the school’s actions regarding the provision of FAPE, including with respect to identification, evaluation, and placement.”

If you would like additional support or information about how 504 plans protect the rights of students with disabilities, feel free to contact Families as Allies at 601-355-0915 or the Mississippi Parent Training and Information Center.

[Photo by javier trueba on Unsplash]

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