- The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights announced Friday that it is requesting public comments regarding general responses to section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act for students with disabilities in K-12 and higher education institutions.
- The comments should provide information for a proposal to amend regulations in section 504, which should then go through another round of community contribution before being finalized by the Department of Education.
- The rules of section 504 have remained largely unchanged for 45 years since their release in 1977, according to the Department of Education news release. The department said the review of the effectiveness of section 504 is consistent with an analysis by President Joe Biden The agenda of unitywhich includes mental health support reforms in primary and secondary schools and colleges.
Section 504 accommodation for students with disabilities includes academic, mental and physical support. A student with a 504 plan may, for example, have individual settings such as sitting in the front row of the classroom, support for diabetes management, or special anxiety management services. Services for students corresponding to Section 504 may be provided in a general or special education class.
Section 504 also requires that schools be physically accessible.
“As we mark the 45th anniversary of these important rules this month, it is time to begin the process of updating them,” said Assistant Secretary of Civil Rights Catherine Lhamon in a statement. “Just like in 1977, the voices of people with disabilities need to be heard and included when we participate in this work.”
While more K-12 students with disabilities are served under the Education for People with Disabilities Act, section 504 is also an important way of support. Both laws aim to protect the civil rights of people with disabilities and prevent discrimination.
About 7.3 million students with disabilities – 14% of the total number covered by public schools – qualified for IDEA services in 2019-2020, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
For comparison, 1.38 million students were submitted exclusively under section 504 in the 2017-18 academic year – the latest data available in the Civil Rights Data Collection.
Students eligible 504 predominantly white and male65% identify as white and 62.3% as male, according to a 2015 analysis by The Advocacy Institute. According to CRDC statistics for 2017-2018, among students eligible for IDEA, 47.7% were named white and 66.3% male.
About 19% of college students in the 2015-16 school year, according to NCES, was recognized as disabled. IDEA services and individual plans under Section 504 do not apply to high school students. Colleges, however, are required provide appropriate academic facilities prevent disability discrimination.
The intersection and uniqueness between IDEA services and Section 504 in K-12 is often misunderstood, which may contribute to the fact that students are potentially not served in Section 504, say some education experts and disability advocates.
Analysis of 2018, made by Perry A. Zirkel, an expert in special education law and emerit Professor of Education and Law at Lehigh University, found that 327 districts with at least 1,250 students had zero 504-only students. Zirkel also found that in 12,229 schools with at least 250 students, no students with a plan of 504 were enrolled. Zirkel used CRDC information for 2015-2016 to analyze.
With regard to physical access to schools, a survey of government office accountability of district officials published in 2020 found that two-thirds of public school districts have schools with physical barriers that can restrict access for people with disabilities. In 55 schools in six states, GAO said, the most common barrier areas were toilets, interior doorways and classrooms. The lack of accessible signs and playgrounds without stable ground surfaces has also caused concern.
The OCR investigates complaints of violations of section 504 in schools and also provides technical assistance. Schools that do not meet the requirements can agrees to corrective action. The OCR may refuse financial assistance to schools or refer the case to the Department of Justice for trial.
This is explained in the letter OCR 2014, dear colleague bullying of a student with a disability may result in a violation of free, appropriate public education in accordance with Section 504.
People interested in posting comments can go to the page https://www2.ed.gov/policy/rights/reg/ocr/index.html. In the coming months, the education department will also hold an audition.