Understanding ADHD | For Professionals | For Teachers | Educational Rights | Section 504

Section 504

Section 504 is a federal civil rights statute that says schools cannot discriminate against children with disabilities. Schools that receive federal dollars must provide eligible children with disabilities with an equal opportunity to participate in all academic and non-academic services the school offers. The school must also provide appropriate accommodations based on their individual needs.

These accommodations are often simple changes that can help the child with the disability. Sometimes these accommodations include special services such as using a tape recorder for note taking, giving the student a quiet place to work, or access to a computer in school for written work. Students who are eligible to receive services under Section 504 receive instruction through the regular education curriculum and at the same level as their peers without disabilities. Students under Section 504 must also participate in state required assessments.


Who is Eligible?

A student is eligible for Section 504 if the child has a physical or mental condition that substantially limits a “major life activity.” Major life activities for a child in school include reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating with others, walking, talking, breathing, caring for oneself, etc.

To qualify under Section 504, a child’s disability must be serious enough, or “substantially limiting,” that the child needs specialized services or accommodations.  All determinations of substantial limitation must be made without regard to the “ameliorative effects of mitigating measures.”  This means that the question of whether or not a child has a “substantial limitation” in a particular area is answered before, and not after, any intervention for that limitation is implemented. “Mitigating measures” includes such things as medication, assistive technology, learned behavioral modifications, psychotherapy, and/or reasonable accommodations. 


What Does Section 504 Provide?

If a child is determined to be eligible under Section 504, the school must develop a Section 504 Plan.  The plan must include appropriate accommodations, evidence-based interventions, and/or related services that are also scientifically or research-based.  The plan must provide the eligible child with an equal opportunity to succeed based on the child’s individual needs when compared to same age, non-disabled peers.  This is defined as a “free appropriate public education” (FAPE) under Section 504. 

Accommodations should be documented in the written Section 504 Plan. Go to Classroom Accommodations to learn more and see examples of appropriate accommodations.

Discipline under Section 504

Students with disabilities under both Section 504 and IDEA are provided with special procedures in situations involving disciplinary removals from their regular educational setting.  Students with a Section 504 Plan may be suspended or expelled in the same manner as any child without a disability for up to 10 school days.  After removal of 10 consecutive days, or a pattern of short term removals amounting to 10 days or more, a meeting (called a manifestation determination) must be held to determine if the behavior subject to disciplinary action is linked to the child’s disability.  

If there is a direct link between the behavior and the disability, the child may not be sent to a disciplinary or alternative education placement.  If there is no link between the behavior and the disability, the child may be disciplined in the same manner as any other child without a disability.  There are two exceptions to this rule:

  1. If a child who is being served by Section 504 is caught “currently engaging in the use of illegal drugs or alcohol,” the child forfeits all rights and procedural protections under Section 504, including the right to a manifestation determination, and may be disciplined in the same manner as any other child without a disability.

  2. A child caught in possession of a firearm in any manner may be immediately removed to an alternative education placement where a manifestation determination must be conducted within 10 school days.  If there is a link to the disability, the child may still be removed for up to 45 school days.  If there is no link to the disability, the child may be disciplined in the same manner as any other child without a disability.

Ask the Expert Webinar: Department of Education Office of Civil Rights Guidance on Section 504 and Students with ADHD