Mark Mandernach was frustrated that his daughter Susan did not qualify as a disabled student under state and/or federal laws. Mark tried everything allowed legally to help his daughter receive the services she needed to thrive in the public education system.
“I literally exhausted every legal channel,” Mark related in an interview. “It was frustrating to learn that my child was not going to receive the tools she needed to learn.”
Mark talked with several attorneys and began to realize that there was a way to help Susan get the tools she needed to attend a public school.
In response to the growing pressure applied by both educators and parents of disabled children. Congress passed the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 on September 26, 1973. Representative John Brademas was the principal sponsor of the legislation that President Richard Nixon signed into law. The rehabilitation Act of 1973 replaced the Vocational Rehabilitation Act that Congress enacted earlier in the year. Written into the bill late in the drafting process, Section 504 expanded the definition of a disability to accommodate students who need special tools and strategies to blend into the public education system.
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 contains several sections, but no section has made more of an impact on public education than the impact made by Section 504. In broad legal language, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1974 prohibits discrimination against people who live with one or more disabilities. Section 504 accommodations in school requires educators to make “simple, inexpensive changes” that provide disabled students with the chance to thrive in a classroom. Section 504 does not mandate that schools implement distinct learning programs for children with special needs, which is the primary legal driving force behind the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
As with most federal laws, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 includes vague legal language that the Department of Education must interpret and the United States legal system must define through court rulings. Section 504 states a student disability is “a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one of more major life activities, has a record of such impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment.” The number of conditions that cause impairment have dramatically over the past 20 years to include ADHD, bi-polar, and food allergies. The conditions that cause disabilities prohibit schools from refusing entrance to special need students, as well as preventing student from gaining a complete education because of a disability.
Section 504 clearly requires schools to provide reasonable accommodations to assist students who have one or more disabilities. However, clarity goes out the window when it comes to defining “reasonable accommodations.” Court rulings have expanded the definition of “reasonable accommodations” from allowing wheelchair bound students to leave class early for the next class, to buying books that have larger print for visually impaired students to read. Some of the more controversial accommodations ruled acceptable by federal courts involve letting ADHD students have more time to complete tests.
Most school districts grant parental requests for reasonable accommodations that expand well beyond what any court has ruled acceptable. However, some parents have to fight denial of Section 504 student accommodations. If a school has denied your request for reasonable education accommodations for your child, you should contact a licensed special education law attorney to schedule a free initial consultation. An experienced special education attorney will walk you through the procedures mandated by federal law to seek and gain acceptance of reasonable accommodations for your special needs child.