Children with disabilities are protected from discrimination in the elementary and secondary educational settings under both Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
The Section 504 regulations require a school district to provide a free appropriate public education (“FAPE”), to each qualified student with a disability who is in the school district’s jurisdiction, regardless of the nature or severity of the disability.
To be protected under Section 504, a student must be determined to:
1) have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; or
2) have a record of such an impairment; or
3) be regarded as having such an impairment.
Major life activities include a broad range of activities, such as standing, sitting, thinking, socializing, breathing, and of course, learning. In the Section 504 context, an “appropriate education” is defined as:
The provision of regular or special education and related aids and services that (i) are designed to meet individual educational needs of handicapped persons as adequately as the needs of nonhandicapped persons are met and (ii) are based upon adherence to procedures that satisfy the requirements [set forth by regulation]
It has been held through the federal judicial authority that a 504 Plan has a wider scope than IDEA. For example, students may meet eligibility through Section 504, who do not meet eligibility under the IDEA. Under Section 504 Plan eligibility, FAPE, or access to FAPE, is achieved through the provision of reasonable accommodations. SGW’s precedent-setting case, R.T. AND T.H. o/b/o A.T. v. WEST WINDSOR-PLAINSBORO REGIONAL BOARD OF EDUCATION helped to define what constitutes reasonable accommodations in the educational setting. A school district must provide reasonable accommodations that allow the student equal access to his or her education, which may be required during transportation, academic instruction, and extra-curricular activities.