Handicapped Student Access to Educational Services

A Resource Guide

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

Section 504 prohibits discrimination against handicapped persons, including both students and staff members, by school districts receiving federal financial assistance. This includes all programs or activities of the school district receiving federal funds, regardless of whether the specific program or activity involved is a direct recipient of federal funds.

These regulations require identification, evaluation, provision of appropriate services and procedural safeguards in every public school in the United States.

Individuals with Disability Education Act (IDEA) (Special Education)

All individuals who are disabled under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) are also considered to be handicapped and therefore protected, under Section 504. All individuals who have been determined to be handicapped under Section 504 may not be disabled under IDEA. These children require a response from the regular education staff and curriculum.

Comparing IDEA and Section 504

The IDEA defines as eligible only students who have certain specified types of disabilities and who, because of one of those conditions, need special education (specially designed instruction). Section 504, on the other hand, protects all handicapped students, defined as those having any physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities (including learning), Section 504 covers all students who meet this definition, even if they do not fall within the IDEA enumerated categories and even if they do not need to be in a special education program.

An example of a student who is protected by Section 504, but who may not be covered by the IDEA, is one who has juvenile arthritis but who is not eligible for special education and related services through IDEA. Such a student has a health impairment but may not be covered by the IDEA if he is not eligible to receive specially designed instruction (special education).

Students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or emotional/ behavioral difficulties provide other examples. Such students may not meet the criteria for IDEA categories such as learning disabled, other health impaired or emotionally disturbed. However, if their disorders or conditions substantially limit their ability to function at school, they are handicapped within the meaning of Section 504 and must be provided with the accommodations and special services necessary to benefit from FAPE.

Evaluation Requirements for 504

If a district has reason to believe that, because of a handicap as defined under Section 504, a student needs either special accommodations or related services in the regular setting in order to participate in the school program, the district must evaluate the student; if the student is determined to be handicapped under Section 504, the district must develop and implement a plan for the delivery of all needed services.

What is required for the Section 504 evaluation and placement process is determined by the type of handicap believed to be present and the type of services the student may need. The evaluation must be sufficient to accurately and completely assess the nature and extent of the handicap and the recommended services. Evaluation more limited than a full special education evaluation may be adequate in some circumstances.

Procedural Safeguards for Section 504

Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, a local education agency must provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to each qualified handicapped child. In complying with the Act, the school district has the duty to locate, identify and notify parents of their rights when they discover a student who qualifies. Qualifying students are those students of school age who:

If a student qualifies, he/she and his/her parents can expect to have reasonable accommodations made in his/her education. Those accommodations will be the result of specific planning for the individual on the part of the school personnel, generally the classroom teachers and other crucial staff members, with input from the parents. Those accommodations will be committed in writing.

Mandated in the rights of Section #504, handicapped students are provided with the following procedural safeguards.

The IDEA and Section 504 - Overview Comparison

General Purpose The IDEA: Is a federal fudning statute whose purpose is to provide financial aid to states in their efforts to ensure adequate and appropriate services for disabled children.

Section 504: Is a broad civil rights law which protects the rights of individuals with handicaps in programs and activities that receive Federal financial assistance from the U.S. Department of Education.

Who is Protected? The IDEA: Identifies 13 categories of qualifying conditions.

Section 504: Identifies students as handicapped so long as he or she meets the definitin of qualified handicapped person, i.e., has or has had a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits a mjaro life activity, or is regarded as handicapped by others.

Responsibility to Provide a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) Both The IDEA and Section 504 require the provision of a free appropriate education to students covered under them including individually designed instruction.

The IDEA requres a written and specific IEP document. "Appropriate" education means a program designed to provide "educational benefit."

Section 504 Does not require a written IEP document, but does require a written plan. "Appropriate" means education comparable to the education provided to nonhandicapped students.

Special Education vs. Regular Education:

The IDEA: A student is only eligible to receive IDEA services if the multidisciplinary team determines that the student is disabled under on of the thirteen qualifying conditions and requires special education.

Section 504: A student is eligible so long as he or she meets the definition of qualified handicapped person: i.e., currently haws or has had a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits a major life activity, or is regarded as handicapped by others. The student is not required to need special education in order to be protected.

Due Process: Both The IDEA and Section 504 statutes require districts to provide impartial hearings for parents or guardians who disagree with the identification, evaluatoin or placement of a student with disabilities.

The IDEA: Delineates specific requirements as detailed in  1415 of the IDEA and in AAC R7-2-405.

Sectino 504: Requires that the parent have an opportunity to participate and be represented by counsel. Other details are left to the discretion of the local school district. These should be covered in School District Policy.


The IDEA: Requires the parent or guardian to pursue administrative hearing before seeking redress in the courts.

Section 504: Not required.


The IDEA: Enforced by the Office of Special Education Programs. Compliance is monitored on the state level by State Departments of Education.

Section 504: Enforced by the Office of Civil Rights (34 CFR  104)


The IDEA does not regulate employment.

Section 504: Employment of persons with disabilities is regulated.