Section 504: What is it?
Generally, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 protects people with disabilities from discrimination. A student who has a physical or mental impairment that SUBSTANTIALLY LIMITS a major life activity is eligible for protection from discrimination and for a free appropriate public education under this law. “Substantially limits” means cannot do it at all (cannot walk, cannot learn, cannot talk, etc) or must do it in a manner that is severely restricted compared with the average person in the general population. A student is always viewed WITH ameliorating supports, such as medication, prosthesis, etc. A student who qualifies for services under 504 might be deaf, for example, requiring only an interpreter to access all general education curriculum and programs. Hearing is substantially limited, and there are no ameliorating supports. A student whose medication controls his ADHD symptoms, allowing him to access the general curriculum and all school programs may qualify for 504. However, this student does not require a 504 plan because his ameliorating supports control his condition, and there is no substantial limitation to learning. Students whose disabilities are expected to last 6 months or less generally do not qualify.
What about students with challenging behavior?
Students who exhibit challenging behavior are often referred to the IEP with the concern that they may be emotionally disabled. This condition is more than a normal reaction to difficult life circumstances. It is long term (6 months or more) and warrants a mental health diagnosis from the DSM IV manual. Students who just don’t like school or who refuse to obey school rules are not considered emotionally disabled. Their behavior is under their control and represents personal or lifestyle choices. Also excluded from disability identification are students whose emotional problems are short term and are expected reactions to difficult life situations such as divorce or death in the family. The RTI Team is an ideal forum for problem solving for these students. It may suggest school based counseling to the family, or help the family or student find other appropriate interventions. Students and families may be referred to Mid-Coast Mental Health.
Supportive services – what are they?
Related or supportive services are services that are required to assist a child to benefit from special education. If the IEP team thinks a child may require supportive services, the team may request an evaluation by the supportive service provider. When evaluation is complete, the team reviews the evaluation and determines if supportive services are required. If so, the services are added to the IEP. Supportive services include occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy, psychological services, and special transportation.