Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, including both students and staff members, by school districts receiving federal financial assistance. Included in the U.S. Department of Education regulations for Section 504 is the requirement that students with disabilities be provided with a free appropriate education (FAPE). These regulations require identification, evaluation, provision of appropriate services, and procedural safeguards in every public school in the United States.
All individuals who are disabled under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) are also considered to be disabled under Section 504. However, students who have been determined to be disabled under Section 504 may not be disabled under IDEA. These students may need to receive educational services through a regular education process. Since the requirements of the IDEA parallel the FAPE requirements of Section 504, students on an IEP will usually receive appropriate services that met the standards of Section 504.
IDEA defines students with certain, specific types of disabilities, eligible for special education services. Section 504, however, protects all students with disabilities, 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 with definition, even if they do not fall within the IDEA categories and do not need to be in a special education program. If a district has reason to believe that, because of a disability as defined u 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 have a disability under Section 504, the district must develop and implement a plan for the delivery of all needed services. The determination of what services are needed must be made by a group of persons knowledgeable about the student. The group should review the nature of the disability, how it affects the student's education, whether specialized services are needed, and if so what these services are. The decisions about Section 504 eligibility and services must be documented in the student's file and reviewed periodically.