Section 504 and Students with Disabilities


  • Students with disabilities are protected in Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This law is intended to help prevent discrimination based on a disability in programs that are funded by the federal government. This includes public schools, as all public schools comply with federal laws. 

    Section 504 requires schools to provide a "free appropriate public education" (FAPE) to all students with disabilities. Schools are required to provide students with necessary accommodations, aids, and services for them to benefit in an equal way as their peers. 

    There is often a great deal of misunderstanding around section 504. Please review these FAQs to help clarify your understanding regarding your child's education. 

    What does FAPE mean?

    School districts are required to provide a free appropriate public education to all students, inclusive of those with disabilities. What this essentially means, is that a school district's role in all the education of all students is to level the playing field, so that all students have equal access to educational success. If a disability is impacting a student's success then the team will determine what types of accommodations would be appropriate, based on existing and elicited data. 

    What is a disability under section 504?

    Under Section 504, an individual with a disability is defined as a person who: has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity; has a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment.  

    Who can refer a student for a 504?

    A parent, guardian, or school staff member can initiate a referral for a 504 evaluation. 

    Is a 504 automatic once my child gets a diagnosis? 

    No. Students who have a diagnosis are always covered under the protections of Section 504 (non-discrimination), but a plan is not always necessary. 

    If my student has a diagnosis, then they should get a 504, correct? 

    Not necessarily. While a student might qualify for a 504 and be protected under section 504, he/she may not need any particular plan to support them. Please see the next question for more details. 

    Do all students protected under section 504 receive accommodations?

    The intent of accommodations on a 504 is to level the playing field for a student with a disability. It is not intended to simply provide extra time for a student in preparation for major assessments or college. The intention is that it should be used at all times in an educational setting in order to allow the student to participate in a way that is equal to his/her peers. 

    I want my student to have accommodations for testing (HiCap, SAT, ACT, etc.), so how do I get a 504? 

    This is not the intention of Section 504, nor is it the intention of the school district. What is in the best interest of the student is to provide appropriate accommodations, if necessary, in an effort to give equal access to the student. Simply seeking accommodations for the purposes of being successful on high stakes test is not an appropriate use of 504. If a student is in need of accommodations for testing, these same accommodations would be present in the classroom. 

    Who do I contact to get a 504? 

    Each school has a 504 coordinator. To discuss 504 eligibility, contact the following parties:

    Island Park and Lakeridge: Sally Loeser

    Northwood: Emily Temple

    West Mercer: Kay Walker

    Islander Middle School: Your child's counselor

    Mercer Island High School: Your child's counselor

    Though coordinators can be contacted, the best first step is your child's teacher.  

    What is the process for a student to have a 504?

    First, someone must make a referral or ask for consideration of supports. The school will determine if a student should need further evaluation or if the supports being provided are enough to provide equitable access to the instruction. Once the referral is made, the school will communicate the additional steps to families. 

    What is the difference between an IEP and a 504?

    Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) and 504s are different in several ways, but the main difference is that a student on an IEP needs specially designed instruction to meet their needs. This typically means some type of additional services, whether that be resource room or a replacement curriculum. A student on a 504 simply needs some accommodations to provide access. Students on 504s do not have specially designed instruction, as they aren't in need of that. 

    Students cannot have both an IEP and a 504.