Wednesday, September 8, 2010

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

Floor marker for people with disabilities in N...Image via Wikipedia
In the most recent post in this series, we examined the recent changes in the Americans with Disabilities Act, which automatically change provisions of §504. These changes were mentioned by multiple speakers on my summer rock tour for special education law. The big question is how these changes may affect special education.

Here again I must apologize for the tendency of the law to use the same words in multiple ways. If this confuses you, you are not alone. Both §504 and IDEA require that kiddos with a disability receive a free and appropriate public education, or FAPE. Unfortunately the definitions of FAPE are different. Get that- same word, different meanings...

To understand §504, one must remember that it is an anti-discrimination law. FAPE as defined by §504 involves a discrimination analysis. The appropriate portion of the definition requires education services designed to meet the individual education needs of students with disabilities as adequately as the needs of nondisabled students are met. For more on §504 FAPE, see the U.S Department of Education website at this link.

The current burning question is how the changes will affect education. Most of the changes were specifically enacted to overturn Supreme Court decisions in the area of employment. So do they translate to special education? For example a child who has an impairment that substantially limits his ability to read, but not to learn, is now clearly eligible, but does he need a 504 plan? Or as to remission, if a middle school girl has cancer but it is in remission in high school, does she need any accommodations?

Another example is a child with a cochlear implant who is hearing well, does this child need accommodations to learn? What about the child who has ADHD that is well controlled by medication? Or a child who functions well with the use of an assistive technology device.

These are trickier questions than I thought at first.

School districts will have to update their forms and expand those who are eligible, but how will some of the 504 plans work? What are your thoughts?

Future posts in this series will review opinions by a national expert and some of the testimony before Congress. 504 may be developing into a hot button issue before our very eyes.

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