Section 504

Section 504 is a Federal law that prohibits disability discrimination by recipients of Federal financial assistance. All public schools and school districts, as well as all public charter schools and magnet schools, that receive Federal financial assistance from the Department must comply with Section 504.

Section 504 provides a broad spectrum of protections against discrimination on the basis of disability. For example, all qualified elementary and secondary public school students who meet the definition of an individual with a disability under Section 504 are entitled to receive regular or special education and related aids and services that are designed to meet their individual educational needs as adequately as the needs of students without disabilities are met. Section 504 also requires, among other things, that a student with a disability receive an equal opportunity to participate in athletics and extracurricular activities, and to be free from bullying and harassment based on disability.

Under Section 504, an individual with a disability (also referred to as a student with a disability in the elementary and secondary education context) is defined as a person who:

  • (1) has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity;
  • (2) has a record of such an impairment; or
  • (3) is regarded as having such an impairment.

The determination of whether a student has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity (and therefore has a disability) must be made on a case by case basis. In addition, when determining if someone meets the definition of a disability, the definition must be understood to provide broad coverage of individuals.

Section 504 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; hemic and lymphatic; skin; and endocrine.

The Section 504 definition of physical and mental impairment also includes any mental or psychological disorder. The definition does not include all specific diseases and conditions that may be physical or mental impairments because of the difficulty of ensuring the completeness of such a list.

The list of major life activities under Section 504 includes, but is not limited to, the activities listed below.

  • caring for oneself
  • bending
  • performing manual tasks
  • speaking
  • seeing
  • breathing
  • hearing
  • learning
  • eating
  • reading
  • sleeping
  • concentrating
  • walking
  • thinking
  • standing
  • communicating
  • lifting
  • working

Information taken directly from: Parent and Educator Resource Guide to Section 504 in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools

Additional Resources:

Frequently Asked Questions about the Rights of Students with Disabilities in Public Charter Schools under
Section 504





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