504 PLAN COMPLAINTS

A student with a disability is covered by § 504 whether or not he or she is eligible for special education. A student qualifies for § 504 protection if he or she (1) has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities, (2) has a record of having such an impairment, or (3) is regarded as having such an impairment. Federal regulations require public schools to provide services and related aid to meet the educational needs of a student with a disability as adequately as those of a student without a disability.

Where do I file a Section 504 Complaint?

Unlike IDEA, § 504 puts the sole responsibility for due process hearings on the program that receives the federal assistance. This means that complaints of violations of the law must be addressed to the school or school district involved, not the state, and that school districts are responsible for setting up a system for resolving complaints that meets federal requirements.

Although a few states, such as Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, use their IDEA independent hearing officer systems to also decide § 504 disputes, Connecticut does not. In a 2009 Circular Letter to school superintendents, the education commissioner explicitly stated that the IDEA and § 504 due process systems “are unique and independent of each other.” Although parents of students with disabilities under § 504, like those of special education students, have the right to an impartial hearing concerning “the identification, evaluation, or educational placement” of a student with a disability, SDE “does not conduct these hearings; these hearings are the responsibility of the local school district.” The commissioner’s letter also emphasized that the following procedures available to resolve special education disputes are not available to resolve § 504 complaints: state mediation, state advisory opinions, and the state due process hearing and complaint resolution procedures described above.

Thus, a complaint regarding a § 504 plan can be filed with the appropriate school district. Federal regulations require each such district with more than 15 employees to have both a § 504 coordinator and a disability discrimination grievance procedure.[1] 

Complaints may also be filed with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR). The deadline for filing a complaint with OCR is 180 days after the parent first knew of a violation or, if the parent first uses a local district’s grievance procedure, within 60 days after the last action under that process. The OCR complaint process is described fully on its website, which also allows a parent to file an electronic complaint.

Dispute Resolution Requirements

Although federal dispute resolution requirements for § 504 complaints are less prescriptive than those for IDEA issues, federal regulations require a school district or school receiving federal aid to have procedural safeguards that include:

  1. Notice;
  2. Opportunity for a student’s parents to examine relevant records;
  3. An impartial hearing with the student’s parent having an opportunity to participate and be represented by a lawyer; and
  4. A review procedure.

The regulations expressly state that using the IDEA dispute resolution system meets these requirements.[2][3]


[1] 34 CFR § 104.7.
[2] 34 CFR § 104.36.
[3] Lohman, Judith, Individualized Education Plan and 504 Complaint Processes, OLR Research Report, 2011-R-0010 (Jan. 7, 2011).

 

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