Monday, August 16, 2010

Big Changes to §504: Do They Affect Special Education - Part I

The western front of the United States Capitol...Image via Wikipedia

As my summer rock tour on special education law continues, one theme is emerging: there have been big changes to §504 (through the ADA amendments by Congress.) The big question is how much these changes will affect the education of kids with disabilities.

At least three speakers, and many of the hallway conversations, during these conferences have directly addressed the changes to §504. One frequently heard comment is that the main dissatisfaction of the Congress with decisions involving §504 and the ADA in the employment context. Congress felt that the U. S. Supreme Court was interpreting the laws too narrowly and blocking many employees from going to court to be heard on the question of reasonableness of accommodations that they were requesting.

In particular Congress took issue with two lines of cases by the Supreme Court. One involved cases following Sutton v. United Airlines 527 US 471, 30 IDELR 681 (1999). Another involved cases following Toyota Manufacturing v. Williams 534 U.S. 184, 102 LRP 6137 (2002).

In the next part in this series, we will look at these cases and why Congress was upset.


  1. Jim - I'm very glad you are addressing this issue. As you know, I believe that 504 and the ADA represent the likely future of special education advocacy. The paper you mentioned on the blog last month on section 504 and the ADA in special education cases represents my preliminary thinking on the subject, but there's a lot more to be developed. I'll be interested to learn what the greatest concerns are for your readership. Thanks for highlighting this issue. Mark Weber

  2. Mark,

    Thanks for the comment. As you have wisely predicted, this is a big issue and got a lot of play at the conferences on my rock tour this summer. This series will continue in the coming weeks, and I'll be interested in reader reaction as well.

    As always, thanks for your support


  3. OCR concludes that reasonableness is not
    a factor in determining 504 accommodations on elementary and secondary campuses.
    "The key question in your letter is whether the OCR reads into the Section 504
    regulatory requirement for a free appropriate public education (FAPE) a
    `reasonable accommodation' standard, or other similar limitation. The clear and
    unequivocal answer to that is no." Response to Zirkel, 20 IDELR 134 (OCR 1993).
    For K-12 extracurricular activities and nonacademic services (see below),
    employment situations and postsecondary students, the answer is different. In
    support of its conclusion, OCR notes that the §504 regulations on employment and
    postsecondary education include specific references to a reasonable
    accommodation standard while the elementary and secondary regulations do not.
    That omission was intentional because of the uniqueness of elementary and
    secondary education.

  4. Anon,

    Thanks for your comment.