Many people don’t understand how it differs from having an Individualized Education Program (IEP) in school. Let’s break it down.
Section 504 is a law that was passed in 1973 as a part of the Rehabilitation Act. It prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in federally funded programs and activities. This means that schools who receive federal money (almost all public schools do) must follow Section 504 guidelines.
So what does this mean for students? Section 504 says that students with disabilities must be given the same opportunity to participate in school programs and activities as students without disabilities. This includes things like after-school clubs, field trips, and graduation ceremonies. In order to make sure that students with disabilities have an equal chance to participate, schools must provide “reasonable accommodations.” Reasonable accommodations are changes or adjustments to a program or activity that allow a student with a disability to participate.
For example, let’s say a student with cerebral palsy wants to join the school choir. The student may need a wheelchair ramp to get into the choir room or someone to help them carry their music folder. These are reasonable accommodations that would allow the student to participate in the choir program.
Basically, it’s when you add or remove something in order to make it accessible. But the content or the teaching doesn’t change. It’s important to note that students with IEPs are also protected under Section 504. However, there are some differences between the two laws.
The main difference is that an IEP is an individualized education program that is created specifically for a student with a disability. It is based on the student’s unique needs and goals. The IEP team (which includes the student’s parents, teachers, and other school staff) meets to develop the IEP. The student receives not just an accommodation, but a change to their school education. This might mean having a Teacher of the Deaf, receiving Speech Language Pathology services, or going to a different school than where their home might be zoned. IEPs are more specific and targeted than 504 plans.
In contrast, Section 504 applies to all students with disabilities who attend schools that receive federal money. These students do not need to have an IEP in order to receive accommodations. Schools must provide accommodations to students with disabilities even if they do not have an IEP.
The Office of Civil Rights says that the changes will make the law “clearer and more consistent.” Many schools don’t even use 504 plans even when their students could benefit from it because it is sorely misunderstood. It is thought that there may be an expansion of what is considered a “disability” under the law.
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