Section 504 and Learning Disabilities

Teens with learning disabilities often need the help of the law to help them get the services they need from schools. However, you will find as you begin looking for help for your teenager with a learning disability, he or she is not likely covered under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Instead, you will need to look for a lesser known statute known as Section 504.

What is Section 504?

Section 504, also known as Rule 504, is named for its position in the Rehabilitation Act. Rule 504 has been in place under the Rehabilitation Act for about three decades. However, because of the fact that it is not covered by any federal funding (as is IDEA), Section 504 is rarely enforced at schools. If you have a school that is reluctant to provide services for teens with learning disabilities, you might have to take legal action in order to help your teenager get the help he or she needs. The idea behind Rule 504 is to break down barriers, “leveling the playing field,” in order to help students with physical or mental impairments.

Who is covered under Rule 504?

Rule 504 is designed to provide broader coverage than IDEA. Temporary conditions can be covered under Section 504. Diseases like hepatitis and mono fall into this category, as they are communicable diseases that prevent teens from attending school, resulting in the possibility that they will fall behind. Section 504 is meant to help these teens. However, it also covers teen learning disabilities. However, it must be a specifically recognized learning disability that impairs the teenager’s ability to learn. Here are the three main qualifications for what teens would be covered under Rule 504:

  1. Teens with a physical or mental impairment that limits, substantially, one or more life activities.
  2. There must be a record of the impairment.
  3. If there is no immediate record, the teen must be evaluated and regarded as having an impairment.

Under Section 504, a teen learning disability is considered an impairment that substantially limits life activities. For teens in school, the ability to learn is considered a major life activity, and so falls under Rule 504. However, some schools try to wiggle out of the mental requirement and instead focus on physical or severe mental impairments.

The schools’ role as outlined in Section 504

Schools are required each year to evaluate their students to help identify teen learning disabilities. Then after identifying the teenagers learning disability, the school is required to notify the parent or guardian of the results, and then comply with appropriate laws to provide free services to help your teen with the learning disability. However, if you feel that a school is lax in identifying teens with learning disabilities, it is possible for you to get legal representation to force the school into compliance. It is important to realize that the school does not receive funding to carry out Rule 504 requirements from the federal government. Additionally, the school is only required to make reasonable accommodations that allow for minor modifications that help your teen succeed.

Section 504 Sources:

  1. “Section 504 & IDEA: Basic Similarities and Differences,” LD Online. [Online.]