Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
- 1.1 Are students with diabetes covered by Section 504?
- 1.2 Does Section 504 apply to all schools?
- 1.3 What do public schools need to do to comply with Section 504?
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, section 504, prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in government services, public accommodations, and employment. The United States Congress enacted this law to ensure nondiscrimination on the basis of disability by providing protection that extends beyond just those with an actual physical handicap. It was drafted to also protect those with mental or emotional limitations and make sure they were treated equally as well.
Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) also prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment by private employers with 15 or more employees. ADA Title I prohibits private employers with 15 or more employees from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities in job application procedures, hiring, firing, advancement, compensation, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment. Employers must provide reasonable accommodations to qualified individuals with disabilities unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the business operations of the employer.
What is Section 504?
Section 504 prohibits discrimination by any public entity that receives federal funds, including suppliers of goods and services to public entities, such as school districts and state governments. It is often referred to as the “no disabled shall be denied the benefits of their programs.” It requires that public entities actively assist those with disabilities in participating and staying in their programs without regard to the nature or severity of the disability.
Are students with diabetes covered by Section 504?
Title II of the ADA applies to any school receiving federal funds; therefore, it would seem that students with diabetes are covered. However, Section 504 prohibits discrimination not just on the basis of a disability but also on the basis of mental or physical impairment. Students with diabetes are covered by Section 504 because Congress has interpreted this statute to mean an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Diabetes fits this description and should be covered under Section 504.
NCDMP strongly recommends that all school districts, public and private, provide information and assistance to the families of students with diabetes. In addition, NCDMP strongly recommends that schools adhere to the ADA revision made in 1988: “any person who has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities may be a person with a disability.”
Does Section 504 apply to all schools?
Section 504 applies to all schools receiving federal funds. Even if a school is mandatorily excluded from Title II of the ADA, Section 504 requires that they provide the same services to students with disabilities as those provided to nondisabled students.
Section 504 requires public agencies to take “reasonable steps” to provide “reasonable” accommodations or reasonable modifications in rules, policies, practices, or services. NCDMP has created a reasonable accommodation form that schools can use to request a form of reasonable accommodation for students. This form can be used as an assessment tool in the school district’s mechanical compliance response for students with diabetes. It is a good idea for Section 504 coordinators to know how to fill out the form and be able to explain the action they take because we have found that some schools do not know what constitutes a reasonable accommodation under Section 504.
What do public schools need to do to comply with Section 504?
It is important for schools to have a review system in place to make sure that students with disabilities are not denied the benefits of their programs. It is also important for schools to provide students with disabilities with the same services that are provided to nondisabled students. NCDMP strongly recommends that the school district develop a written plan in cooperation with parents, students with diabetes, and other relevant disability community members. This plan should describe how each student will be assessed regarding his or her need for reasonable accommodations and what steps need to be taken.
Students with diabetes have differing levels of independence, and their needs will vary. At times, students may need to take blood glucose tests during class time, which may not be possible if the school does not have adequate storage for test strips or a meter. Students also face other situations, such as lunchtime and recess, that occur during class time. It is important for schools to provide students with diabetes with accommodations that make it possible for them to participate in the same activities available to anyone else in the school.
It is up to school districts to develop a plan in cooperation with parents, students, and other disability communities, including NCDMP. The School Board and the Section 504 team should meet with the family to develop a plan for the student’s education. Without such a plan, proper accommodations may not be provided. It is very important for schools to provide equal access so that students are not denied participation in activities due to their disabilities.