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Disciplinary Considerations for Students Under Section 504

Students with 504 accommodations are not immune from the district’s disciplinary process once identification and placement procedures are properly followed. Students with 504 accommodations being considered for long-term suspension or expulsion must receive a Manifestation Determination Review prior to a District Discipline Hearing. The committee must determine if the conduct in question was caused by or had a direct and substantial relationship to the student’s disability or was the conduct in question a direct result of the school’s failure to implement the student’s 504 plan. If yes, any disciplinary recommendation for a change of placement should be withdrawn. If no, the student may be disciplined in the same manner as students without disabilities.

What Is Section 504?

Section 504 is a federal civil rights statute under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. It provides protections against discrimination for individuals on the basis of a disability. Students in school settings fall under the protection of Section 504 which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability from all school programs, benefits and activities. It may be a service option available to students with disabilities who have been evaluated and met Section 504 identification criteria. Section 504 is designed to provide equal access and fairness in general education to students with disabilities, thereby leveling the playing field for them through what is known as a Section 504 Accommodation Plan. It is NOT a plan designed to enhance a student’s performance. Its purpose is to ensure equal access to the programs, benefits and activities that APS offers. 

What does this mean for your student in special education? 

For students receiving special education services for a disability, Section 504 ensures these students are not subject to discrimination based on their disability. This means students with disabilities should have access to the education programs relevant and appropriate to that student. Please note: Students who qualify for Section 504 accommodations do not automatically qualify for special education under IDEA and students who qualify for special education under IDEA do not automatically qualify for Section 504 accommodations. 

What does this mean if your student has a disability but is not in special education? 

For students not in special education but have an impairment that substantially limits major life activities such as caring for oneself, learning, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, and working, Section 504 ensures, that upon request, a committee will determine your student’s 504 Plan eligibility. If your student is determined to be eligible, accommodations can be provided to help the student access his/her educational program. 

How does this process work?

  • Parents or the school staff may request a 504 planning conference. 
  • Parents are notified in writing of the date, time and place of the 504 planning conference. 
  • Information is gathered for review at the conference to determine eligibility. Parents may wish to bring information. 
  • The conference participants review the information and determine if the student meets the 504 plan eligibility criteria. 
  • If the student is eligible, a written 504 Plan is completed with input from the parent(s), school staff and where appropriate, the student. 
  • If the student is found not to be eligible for a 504 Plan the student may be referred to the school’s Student Assistance Team (SAT). 
  • The SAT may work with your child’s teacher, nurse or other staff to create a school health plan, a behavior plan or an academic improvement plan that will help to ensure your child is successful in accessing the educational program at the school. 
  • If a 504 Plan is developed for your student, that plan will be reviewed at least annually to ensure that your student still needs the plan or that the plan is meeting your student’s needs. 
  • If, at any time, your student’s condition changes or you believe a change is needed in the plan, you may request a new planning conference.30 

What happens if parents/families believe some part of section 504 is not being followed?

If you believe that either part of Section 504 is not being followed you may make a report and request a resolution. 

  • Parents may request mediation between themselves and the school staff to resolve the situation informally. This request should be made to the principal.
  • If parents are not satisfied with the informal resolution, they may request a due process hearing. That hearing is a formal process with the district appointed 504 Hearing Officer. The hearing will provide opportunity for participation by the parent, students and their representative or legal counsel.
  • Parents may also file a complaint directly with the Office of Civil Rights.

Does every student with impairment require a 504 plan?

No. A student may have a health plan or a behavior plan instead of a 504 Plan. These plans are written documents describing what accommodations will be provided by teachers, nurses, counselors or other school staff. They are reviewed periodically and may be updated or changed if at any time the parents, students or staff believes other accommodations are required. These plans are developed with parents and students, and changes are only made with parent communication and agreement. Section 504 applies only if the impairment substantially limits a major life activity. APS encourages school personnel, parents and students to work cooperatively to avoid getting mired down in definitional disputes, and focus on ensuring that the student is able to equally access the programs, benefits and services that APS offers, regardless of whether through a health plan, behavior plan, Section 504 plan or other process.

Where do I call to ask about a 504 plan?

Questions about how to develop a 504 Plan for your student, or concerns you may wish to express about equitable treatment of a special education student, start with your child’s principal and teacher. Your student’s principal may refer you to the school counselor or to the chair of the Student Assistance Team (SAT) for immediate help.

The principal may request that the District 504 Coordinator attend and participate in your child’s 504 planning conference or to be involved in mediation. The 504 Coordinator is charged with ensuring that school staffs understand the requirements of Section 504 and helps to ensure that these requirements are implemented. The District 504 Coordinator can serve as an impartial third party to help with planning or mediation. As a parent, you may request that the District 504 Coordinator attend a planning conference.

If you feel that the staff at your child’s school has not adequately responded to your request you may contact the APS Student, Parent, Employee Service Center at 855-9040. The Student, Parent, Employee Service Center will give direction on how to address your concerns or will connect you with the District 504 Coordinator for support.31 

Disability Harassment/Discrimination

Numerous situations may constitute disability harassment or discrimination. Mocking, taunting, ridiculing, criticizing or punishing a disabled student because of his/her disability are a few examples of what may constitute disability harassment or discrimination. Examples of circumstances that may constitute disability harassment include: 

  • Making remarks out loud during class that a student with dyslexia is “retarded” or “deaf and dumb” and does not belong in the class. 
  • Repeatedly placing classroom furniture or other objects in the path of classmates who use wheelchairs, impeding the student’s mobility. 
  • Habitually subjecting a student to inappropriate physical restraint because of conduct related to his disability. 
  • Repeatedly denying a student with a disability access to lunch, field trips, assemblies, and extra-curricular activities as punishment for taking time off from school for required services related to the student’s disability. 
  • Repeatedly belittling and criticizing a student for using accommodations in class. 
  • Taunting and belittling a student with disabilities by mocking and intimidation. 

School personnel who become aware of disability harassment shall promptly and effectively act to end the harassment and prevent it from recurring and, where appropriate, remedy the effects on the student who was harassed. Remedial measures will generally include counseling both persons who have been harmed by harassment and person(s) who have been responsible for the harassment of others and implementing monitoring programs to follow up on resolved issues of disability harassment.