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Educational support through Section 504 Section 504 is a civil rights law and part of the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Section 504 prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in the receipt of programs or services by entities receiving federal financial assistance. Public school districts are covered by this Act and are required to provide students with disabilities a free appropriate public education (FAPE). Eligibility criteria: A qualified student is a person with a mental or physical impairment or a combination of the two that substantially limits one or more major areas of life activity. Examples of major areas of life activity include: learning, hearing, seeing, speaking, mobility, health impairments, etc. It also applies to persons having a record of such impairment or regarded as having such impairment. Disabilities that could be covered under Section 504 include: diabetes, ADD/ADHD, epilepsy, conduct disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, arthritis, HIV/AIDS, endometriosis, cancer, and Tourette syndrome. When should 504 be considered for a student? If a student has been evaluated for special education, and during the “eligibility meeting”, has been found ineligible under the IDEA standards, then a Section 504 plan should be immediately requested. If the condition substantially limits a major area of life activity then the student is determined to be disabled under Section 504. Making a request for a Section 504 evaluation and plan If the student has not been previously evaluated by the district, and you suspect that the student may require accommodations to participate in school as a result of a condition, there are procedures for requesting an evaluation. Contact the Superintendent’s office and request the district’s plan for 504. It outlines the procedures for requesting an evaluation, the programs and services available to students with disabilities, their nondiscrimination policy, and grievance procedures. Typical steps in the evaluation process are as follows: 1. Make a written request to the designated school official for a Section 504 evaluation and plan. 2. The school can decide to evaluate or not to evaluate. The evaluation could include a review of medical records, recommendations from the doctor, therapist, or nurse, a review of school records and/or other specialized evaluations. Information must be gathered from a variety of sources. 3. There are no timelines for the completion of the evaluation. 4. Decisions must be made by a group of persons knowledgeable about the student, evaluation data and placement options. Parental participation is not a requirement in decision making/planning. Developing a 504 Plan A meeting will be held following the evaluation to determine a student’s eligibility. If a student is determined to be eligible, then a plan must be developed to provide all needed services, including related services, and accommodations. In any plan, the student should be educated with peers to the maximum extent possible. While a written plan is not required, best practice indicates that accountability is easier if the plan is written. Determine and document who will be accountable to ensure that the plan is implemented, the participants in the implementation of the plan, and specific dates for review of the plan and periodic reevaluation. Notice must be given to parents/guardian regarding identification, evaluation and placement. Notice must be given to parents/guardian prior to a significant change in placement. Parents/guardian may examine their child’s records. Types of services and accommodations: The accommodations for the eligible 504 student need to be individualized to be effective. These examples show there is no one plan that will fit the needs of every student. For example: A student with diabetes may need to periodically throughout the school day check his or her blood sugar level. The plan could include permission for the student to be excused from class to do this procedure. A student takes medication for a seizure disorder that is not under control. A plan should be developed to outline the steps that will be taken when the child has a seizure, including the opportunity to have a place to sleep afterwards, if needed. A student has Tourette Syndrome, and when stressed, he will blurt out words or phrases in class that would be disruptive. A plan should be developed that when the student is feeling stressed, he should be able to leave the classroom until he can compose himself, then return. A high school student has a conduct disorder and cannot pass in the hallways without being bumped by other students during the change in classes. When bumped, he becomes confrontational with the other student. A plan can be developed that allows the student with the conduct disorder to go to his next class five minutes before the bell rings, thus precluding the opportunity to confront others when he is bumped. Nonacademic services and extracurricular activities: Qualified students may not be excluded on the basis of disability from participation in nonacademic services and extracurricular activities. This may include counseling, physical education and recreational athletics. Also included in this category are transportation, health services, special interest groups or clubs sponsored by the school, referrals to agencies that provide assistance to disabled persons and student employment. Discipline The district must reevaluate the child prior to any disciplinary removal for more than 10 days. This does not apply to discipline of drug and alcohol related behavior. If it has been determined that the behavior complained of is related to the child’s disability, then the child may not be removed for more than 10 consecutive school days unless the behavior is related to drug or alcohol use. While a school discipline hearing is pending, there is no “stay put” provision under Section 504. In other words, the district can take action to move the student from the education setting prior to the discipline hearing. There is no right to remain in the current educational placement. As a result of the disciplinary action, the student may lose the right to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). However, if the school knew or suspected a student had an IDEA disability, then an IDEA hearing may be requested and IDEA procedures, including “stay put” could be invoked. The dispute resolution process If parents/caregivers are dissatisfied with any aspect of the process from evaluation to implementation, they have the right to make a complaint. First and foremost, contact the child’s school principal to arrange for a meeting to discuss the issues and possible solutions to the problem. Be familiar with the district’s 504 grievance procedures and enlist the compliance officer in solving the problem. Parents/caregivers should put issues in writing and ask for a response. If one cannot achieve satisfactory results and still wants to pursue the issue, there are several options: o Request an impartial due process hearing. o Make a complaint to the Office of Civil Rights. o Sue in federal district Court. Exhaustion of administrative remedies is not required before going to Court. o If a parent/caregiver chooses to request a due process hearing before a hearing officer, you may assist them in obtaining an attorney through the DCFS Legal Services Contract to act as their representative this hearing. Filing a Complaint If you decide to make a complaint to the Office of Civil Rights, you can make a complaint by phone and request an Early Complaint Resolution (ECR). There will be no on-site investigation and no Letter of Finding issued. On the other hand, if you make a written complaint, there may be an on-site investigation, and if there are violations, then a Letter of Finding can be issued. Complaints must be filed within 180 days of the alleged discrimination to the following office: Office of Civil Rights U.S. Department of Education 111 North Canal Street Room 1053 Chicago, Illinois 60606 Phone: (312) 886-8434 TDD: (312) 353-2540 Alternative education settings and Section 504 Qualified students with disabilities who attend public school in an alternative education setting (AES) can still receive services under Section 504 (or under Title II of the ADA). The procedures for requesting and obtaining services are available from the public school district that administers the AES. The procedures would differ slightly if the administration of the program is an entity other than the public school system. For example, if the program is administered by the Regional Office of Education, then contact that office for the procedures to request Section 504 services. The GED test and accommodations under Section 504 If the student is planning to take the GED test and requires accommodations to take this test, it is the responsibility of the caseworker and student to make the request by completing the necessary form and to supply evidence of the disability. To obtain the forms necessary to begin this process, contact the county Regional Office of Education. Depending on when the request is made, it can take up to eight weeks to obtain approval for the accommodations. If the request for accommodations is denied, then the student can appeal the adverse decision, in writing, to: Illinois State Board of Education Community and Family Partnerships - C418 100 North First Street Springfield, IL 62777 Post-secondary education and Section 504 This section addresses the obligations of higher education under Section 504 and applies to all recipients of federal funding from the U.S. Department of Education. Public colleges, universities, and postsecondary vocational and adult education programs are encompassed by this regulation. The post-secondary school has an obligation to provide auxiliary aids and services in a timely manner to ensure effective participation by students with disabilities. If students are being evaluated to determine their eligibility under Section 504 (or under Title II of the ADA), post-secondary institutions must provide auxiliary aids in the interim. Responsibilities of the student: The student with a disability must provide notice of the nature of the disabling condition to the college. The student must also assist in identifying the appropriate and effective auxiliary aids that are needed. The student must give adequate notice of the need. The student’s notification should be provided to the appropriate representative of the college. It could be the school’s Section 504 or ADA coordinator, or an appropriate dean, a faculty advisor, or a professor. If the college requests, the student must provide supporting diagnostic test results and professional prescriptions for auxiliary aids. The college may require its own professional determination of whether specific requested auxiliary aids are necessary. The provision of an auxiliary aid or service is to be provided at no cost to the student, and is not subject to availability of funds, or locating resources from other providers. Aids and services not covered under Section 504: Tutoring is considered a personal service and is not covered by this regulation. Help in bathing, dressing, or other personal care is not required to be provided by the institution. Individually prescribed devices, readers for personal use or study, or other devices or services of a personal nature. Dispute resolution process: Contact the 504 (or ADA) compliance officer for the institution and request the process for complaint resolution. Follow their procedure and put your complaint in writing to the designated person assigned to handling complaints. The student may also contact the regional Office of Civil Rights and file a formal complaint. Or, the student can sue in federal district Court. Exhaustion of administrative remedies is not required before going to Court. Complaints must be filed within 180 days of the alleged violation.
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