Frequently Asked Questions About Section 504
1. What services are available for students who qualify under Section 504?
Section 504 requires schools to provide students with disabilities
appropriate educational services designed to meet the individual needs of such
students to the same extent as the needs of students without disabilities are met.
An appropriate education for a student with a disability under the Section 504
regulations could consist of education in regular classrooms, education in regular
classes with supplementary services, and/or special education and related
2. What is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life
The determination of whether a student has a physical or mental
impairment that substantially limits a major life activity must be made on the
basis of an individual inquiry. The Section 504 regulation, at 34 C.F.R.
104.3(j)(2)(i), defines a physical or mental impairment as any physiological
disorder or condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or anatomical loss affecting one or
more of the following body systems: neurological; musculoskeletal; special sense
organs; respiratory, including speech organs; cardiovascular; reproductive;
digestive; genito-urinary; heroic and lymphatic; skin; and endocrine; or any
mental or psychological disorder, such as mental retardation, organic brain
syndrome, emotional or mental illness, and specific learning disabilities. The
regulation does not set forth an exhaustive list of specific diseases and conditions
that may constitute physical or mental impairments because of the difficulty of
ensuring the comprehensiveness of such a list.
Major life activities, as defined in the Section 504 regulation at 34 C.F.R.
104.3(j)(2)(ii), include functions such as caring for one's self, performing manual
tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working. This
list is not exhaustive. Other functions can be major life activities for purposes of
3. Does the meaning of the phrase "qualified student with a disability" differ on
the basis of a student's educational level, i.e., elementary and secondary
Yes. At the elementary and secondary educational level, a "qualified
student with a disability" is a student with a disability who is: of an age at which
students without disabilities are provided elementary and secondary educational
services; of an age at which it is mandatory under state law to provide elementary
and secondary educational services to students with disabilities; or a student to
whom a state is required to provide a free appropriate public education under the
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
4. Does the nature of services to which a student is entitled under Section 504
differ by educational level?
Yes. Elementary and secondary schools are required to provide a free,
appropriate public education to qualified students with disabilities. Such an
education consists of regular or special education and related aids and services
designed to meet the individual educational needs of students with disabilities as
adequately as the needs of students without disabilities are met.
5. Once a student is identified as eligible for services under Section 504, is that
student always entitled to such services?
No. The protections of Section 504 extend only to individuals who meet
the regulatory definition of a person with a disability. If a school district reevaluates
a student in accordance with the Section 504 regulation at 34 C.F.R.
104.35 and determines that the student's mental or physical impairment no longer
substantially limits his/her ability to learn or any other major life activity, the
student is no longer eligible for services under Section 504.
6. What is an appropriate evaluation under Section 504?
School districts must establish standards and procedures for initial
evaluations and periodic re-evaluations of students who need or are believed to
need special education and/or related services because of a disability. The Section
504 regulation, at 34 C.F.R. 104.35(b), requires school districts to individually
evaluate a student before classifying the student as having a disability or
providing the student with special education. Tests used for this purpose must be
selected and administered so as best to ensure that the test results accurately
reflect the student's aptitude or achievement or other factors being measured
rather than reflect the student's disability, except where those are the factors being
measured. Section 504 also requires that tests and other evaluation materials
include those tailored to evaluate the specific areas of educational need and not
merely those designed to provide a single intelligence quotient, The tests and
other evaluation materials must be validated for the specific purpose for which
they are used and appropriately administered by trained personnel.
7. How much is enough information to document that a student has a
The amount of information required is determined by the multidisciplinary
committee gathered to evaluate the student. The committee should
include persons knowledgeable about the student, the meaning of the evaluation
data, and the placement options. The committee members must determine if they
have enough information to make a knowledgeable decision as to whether or not
the student has a disability. The Section 504 regulation, at 34 C.F.R. 104.35(c),
requires that school districts draw from a variety of sources in the evaluation
process so that the possibility of error is minimized. The information obtained
from all such sources must be documented and all significant factors related to the
student's learning process must be considered. These sources and factors may
include aptitude and achievement tests, teacher recommendations, physical
condition, social and cultural background, and adaptive behavior. In evaluating a
student suspected of having a disability, it is unacceptable to rely on presumptions
and stereotypes regarding persons with disabilities or classes of such persons.
Compliance with the IDEA regarding the group of persons present when an
evaluation or placement decision is made is satisfactory under Section 504.
8. What process should a school district use to identify students eligible for
services under Section 504? Is it the same process as that employed in
identifying students eligible for services under the IDEA?
School districts may use the same process initially to evaluate the needs of
students under Section 504 as they use to evaluate the needs of students under the
IDEA. If school districts choose to adopt a separate process for evaluating the
needs of students under Section 504, they must follow the requirements for
evaluation specified in the Section 504 regulation at 34 C.F.R. 104.35.
9. Must school districts consider "mitigating measures" used by a student in
determining whether the student has a disability under Section 504?
Yes. A school district must consider a student's use of mitigating measures
in determining whether the student is substantially limited in a major life activity.
"Mitigating measures" are devices or practices that a person uses to correct or
reduce the effects of that person's mental or physical impairment. Examples
include corrective eyeglasses and medications. A person who experiences no
substantial limitation in any major life activity when using a mitigating measure
does not meet the definition of a person with a disability and would not be entitled
to FAPE under Section 504.
10. Does OCR endorse a single formula or scale that measures substantial
No. The determination of substantial limitation must be made on a case-by-
case basis with respect to each individual student. The Section 504 regulation,
at 34 C.F.R. 104.35(c), requires that a group of knowledgeable persons draw upon
information from a variety of sources in making this determination.
11. Are there any impairments which automatically qualify a student for
protection under Section 504?
No. An impairment in and of itself does not qualify a student for
protection under Section 504. The impairment must substantially limit one or
more major life activity in order to qualify a student for protection under Section
12. Can a medical diagnosis suffice as an evaluation for the purpose of providing
No. A physician's medical diagnosis may be considered among other
sources in evaluating a student with a disability or believed to have a disability
which substantially limits a major life activity. Other sources to be considered,
along with the medical diagnosis, include aptitude and achievement tests, teacher
recommendations, physical condition, social and cultural background, and
13. How should a school district handle an outside independent evaluation? Do
all data brought to a multi-disciplinary committee need to be considered and
given equal weight?
The results of an outside independent evaluation may be one of many
sources to consider. Multi-disciplinary committees must draw from a variety of
sources in the evaluation process so that the possibility of error is minimized. All
significant factors related to the subject student's learning process must be
considered. These sources and factors include aptitude and achievement tests,
teacher recommendations, physical condition, social and cultural background, and
adaptive behavior, among others. Information from all sources must be
documented and considered by knowledgeable committee members. The weight
of the information is determined by the committee given the student's individual
14. Who in the evaluation process makes the ultimate decision regarding a
student's eligibility for services under Section 504?
The Section 504 regulation at 34 C.F.R. 104.35(c)(3) requires that school
districts ensure that the determination that a student is eligible for special
education and/or related aids and services be made by a group of persons,
including persons knowledgeable about the meaning of the evaluation data and
knowledgeable about the placement options. If a parent disagrees with the
determination, he or she may request a due process hearing.
15. What is reasonable justification for referring a student for evaluation for
services under Section 504?
School districts may always use regular education intervention strategies
to assist students in school. Section 504 requires school districts to refer a student
for an evaluation for possible special education or modification to regular
education if the student, because of disability, needs or is believed to need such
16. A student has a disability referenced in the IDEA, but does not require
special education services. Is such a student eligible for services under
The student may be eligible for services under Section 504. The school
district must determine whether the student has an impairment which substantially
limits his or her ability to learn or other major life activities and, if so, make an
individualized determination of the child's educational needs for regular or special
education or related aids or services. For example, such a student may receive
adjustments in the regular classroom.
17. How should a school district regard a temporary impairment?
A temporary impairment does not constitute a disability for purposes of
Section 504 unless its severity is such that it results in a substantial limitation of
one or more major life activity for an extended period of time. The issue of
whether a temporary impairment is substantial enough to be a disability must be
resolved on a case-by-case basis, taking into consideration both the duration (and
expected duration) of the impairment and the extent to which it actually limits a
major life activity of the affected individual.
18. If a student qualifies for services under both the IDEA and Section 504, must
a school district develop both an individualized education program (IEP)
under the IDEA and a Section 504 plan under Section 504?
No. If a student is eligible under IDEA, he or she must have an IEP. Under
the Section 504 regulations, one way to meet Section 504 requirements is to
comply with IDEA.
19. Must a school district develop a Section 504 plan for a student who either
"has a record of disability" or is "regarded as disabled"?
No. In elementary and secondary schools, unless a student actually has a
disabling condition that substantially limits a major life activity, the mere fact that
a student has a "record of" or is "regarded as" disabled is insufficient, in itself, to
trigger those Section 504 protections that require the provision of a free and
appropriate public education (FAPE). The phrases "has a record of disability" and
"is regarded as disabled" are meant to reach the situation in which a student either
does not currently have or never had a disability, but is treated by others as such.
20. What are the responsibilities of regular education teachers with respect to
implementation of Section 504 plans? What are the consequences if the
district fails to implement the plans?
Regular education teachers must implement the provisions of Section 504
plans when those plans govern the teachers' treatment of students for whom they
are responsible. If the teachers fail to implement the plans, such failure can cause
the school district to be in noncompliance with Section 504.
21. Must a school district obtain parental consent prior to initiating a Section
Yes. OCR has interpreted Section 504 to require districts to obtain
parental permission for initial evaluations. If a district suspects a student needs or
is believed to need special instruction or related services and parental consent is
withheld, districts may use due process hearing procedures to override the parents'
denial of consent for an initial evaluation.
22. What procedural safeguards are required under Section 504?
School districts are required to establish and implement procedural
safeguards that include notice, an opportunity for parents/guardians to review
relevant records, an impartial hearing with opportunity for participation by the
student's parents/guardians, representation by counsel and a review procedure.
23. What is a school district's responsibility under Section 504 to provide
information to parents and students about its evaluation and placement
Section 504 requires districts to provide notice to parents/guardians
explaining any evaluation and placement decisions affecting their children and
explaining the parents'/guardians' right to review educational records and appeal
any decision regarding evaluation and placement through an impartial hearing.