Purpose of Section 504 Legislation
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) states that "No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States...........shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance [29U.S.C.Sec.794(a)].
Section 504 plans outline accommodations, strategies, and/or services that an eligible student needs in order to access publicly funded programming to the same extent as his/her average non-disabled peers. It should be noted that the eligibility criteria for a 504 plan are different from the eligibility for an Individualized Education Plan established under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
In order to ensure that the North Middlesex Regional Schools provide equal access to programs, services, and activities, the following definitions, requirements, and procedures are provided.
Person with a Disability means any person who has (i) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; or (ii) has a record of such impairment; or (iii) is regarded as having such impairment.
Physical or Mental Impairment means (i) any physiological disorder or condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or anatomical loss affecting one or more body systems; or (ii) any mental or psychological disorder, such as mental retardation, organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness, and specific learning disabilities.
Major Life Activity means functions such as caring for one's self, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working.
Appropriate Education means the provision of regular education and related accommodations, aids, and services that are designed to secure for persons with disabilities access to the curriculum and school activities as adequately as the needs of persons without disabilities.
Committee of Knowledgeable People means persons knowledgeable about the child, the meaning of evaluation data, the expectations of regular education, and the district's standard accommodations (hereinafter referred to as "the team").
The North Middlesex Regional Schools are required to:
- Routinely assess all students to identify their learning needs, including but not limited to their access to the curriculum and school activities. No student with a disability "shall solely based by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance [29U.S.C. Sec.794 (a)].
- Notify parents/guardians of the Section 504 procedural safeguards when there is a request for a 504 plan or the district/school otherwise have a reason to suspect that a student may be eligible for accommodations under Section 504.
- Convene a team of knowledgeable staff who know the student well, the meaning of evaluation data, the expectations of regular education, and the district's standard accommodations.
- Determine what evaluations are needed in order to assess eligibility for a plan under Section 504. Notify parents of the school's intention to evaluate the student and provide the parent a copy of the procedural safeguards if not already done so.
- Using evaluations and data collected from a variety of sources, determine whether the student has a disability under Section 504.
- If the team decides that the student does have a disability, the team must assess whether the accommodations needed for equal education opportunity are available to all students as part of the district's standard accommodation plan.
- If the necessary accommodations are not otherwise available, the team may need to develop a 504 plan.
- Provide parents/guardians with the opportunity to review how the accommodations and/or services will be implemented.
- Review 504 plans periodically to determine if the accommodations are sufficient or are still needed in order for the student to have the same opportunity to participate as his/her average non-disabled peers.
- In the case of a failure to reach an agreement, notify parents of the district's internal grievance procedure and their right to seek an impartial due process hearing through the Bureau of Special Education Appeals at the Massachusetts Department of Elementary & Secondary Education.
Identification and Notification
The district will routinely assess all students to identify their learning needs, including but not limited to their access to the curriculum and school activities. In this regard, the district will take appropriate steps to evaluate any student they suspect may be eligible for accommodations under Section 504.
Least Restrictive Environment
Team members are aware of their obligation to ensure that students are educated with their non-disabled peers to the greatest extent possible. All accommodations, strategies, and/or services are developed following this requirement.
A student may be referred for an evaluation by any parent/guardian or professional who may suspect eligibility for accommodations under Section 504. A team of knowledgeable people determine what evaluations are needed in order to assess 504 eligibility.
A team of knowledgeable people convene at the conclusion of the evaluation to consider evaluation results, determine eligibility, and identify appropriate accommodations, strategies, and/or services. If needed, a written Section 504 plan will be developed and maintained by the designated school administrator.
The designated school administrator ensures that staff required to implement the 504 plan is aware of their specific responsibilities. The designated school administrator also ensures that Section 504 plans are implemented and reviewed in a timely manner, especially, but not limited to, students who are transitioning from elementary to middle and from middle to high school.
Section 504 plans are reviewed annually to determine if the accommodations are sufficient or are still needed in order for the student to have the same opportunity to participate as his/her average non-disabled peers.
Procedural safeguards are provided to the parents/guardians at the time of referral, with every Section 504 meeting notice, and when a mutual agreement cannot be reached.
The Section 504 Coordinator is:
Brad Brooks, Director of Special Education
North Middlesex Regional School District
66 Brookline Street, Townsend, MA 01469