STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
Section 504 is part of a federal civil rights law known as the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This law specifically prohibits discrimination against students with disabilities and guarantees them a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). Discrimination, as defined in Section 504, is the failure to provide students with disabilities the same opportunity to benefit from education programs, services, or activities as provided to their nondisabled peers. Therefore, schools cannot exclude or deny students with disabilities access to facilities, programs, benefits, activities, or services that are provided to students without disabilities. Schools must make sure that all students receive equal access to educational opportunities.
Definition of a “person with disabilities”
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 defines a person with disabilities as any person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities or bodily functions, has a record of such impairment, or is regarded as having an impairment. Major life activities include, but are not limited to, caring for one’s self, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working. Learning does not have to be the major life activity affected in order for an individual to be eligible for protections and services under Section 504.
Identifying Student Disabilities
Anyone may raise a concern about a student’s unique need for special help. Once a concern is raised, parents, teachers, and other staff members meet to discuss all relevant information about the student.
The parents’ participation in this meeting is critical and helps to establish an accurate picture of the student’s medical condition and current needs at school. Based on the information received, the Section 504 team considers whether the student qualifies as an individual with a disability under Section 504. If the team needs more information, the team will obtain the parent’s consent to conduct an evaluation. If the team determines that the student has a disability, the team identifies what types of support is appropriate to meet the student’s needs. These accommodations will be described in a document referred to as the Section 504 Student Service Plan.
Section 504 Student Services Plan
A Section 504 plan describes the accommodations and services that the school provides to support the student’s education. The team that determined the student’s eligibility for Section 504 and identified the needed accommodations and services will create this service plan to provide clarity and direction to the individuals delivering services or making accommodations. A Section 504 Student Service Plan may be updated at any time to reflect changes and recommendations by the team. The plan should be reviewed on a yearly basis or updated earlier if the student’s needs or diagnosis/impairment(s) changes.
Role of Parents
Parents are their child’s first and most important teachers, as well as their advocates. If a parent believes his or her child has a disability or is having problems in school, parents should contact the school principal, school counselor, school nurse, or their child’s teacher to discuss these concerns. Building a strong parent/school relationship begins with effective communication. Parents play a key role by providing important information to schools about their child’s needs, particularly for students with disabilities. As an added benefit, this involvement demonstrates the importance the parent places on education.
Role of Teachers
Teachers play an integral role in the development and implementation of a student’s Section 504 Student Services Plan. Teachers attend eligibility and review meetings, implement needed accommodations, and provide ongoing progress monitoring of the accommodations listed on a student’s plan. A teacher’s ongoing communication with the student’s parent/guardian and school staff ensures that the student’s needs are being met. Teachers are required under Section 504 to make necessary accommodations as specified in the Section 504 Student Service Plan.
Addressing Issues with a Section 504 Student Service Plan
Ongoing communication between parents and teachers will help avoid disagreements related to the fulfillment of a student’s service plan. When parents’ or teachers’ concerns are not addressed to their satisfaction, they should contact the school principal or the site-based Section 504 Coordinator or school counselor. If the plan is not appropriate, it should be revised following the same procedures used to develop the original plan. Because situations change and students’ needs change, flexibility in this process is key to assist everyone in meeting the student’s needs.
Procedural safeguards are the procedures schools and parents must use in making decisions about services for students with disabilities. School principals should have the procedural safeguards information available for parents upon request.
Under Section 504, parents have the right to:
- receive notice regarding the identification, evaluation, and placement of their child
- receive prior notice when the school is changing or discontinuing services for their child
- review their child’s records
- participate in an impartial hearing
- a review process
In addition, school districts must provide public notification of the following:
- policies of nondiscrimination
- grievance procedures
- contact information for the Section 504 Office and compliance manager
While all students are expected to follow classroom and school rules, a student with a disability may need a specialized behavior plan or accommodations to support appropriate behavior during all school activities. Students with disabilities are not exempt from consequences for violations of the code of student conduct. In cases of severe violations of the district’s code of student conduct, disciplinary interventions are frequently based on approved school board policies and require specific consequences.
If a student has been suspended for more than 10 days cumulatively during a school year, the student’s Section 504 Team must convene a meeting to conduct a manifestation determination review (MDR). An MDR is the process for determining if a student’s misconduct is related to the student’s disability. The Section 504 Team must determine if:
- the conduct in question was caused by, or had a direct and substantial relationship to, the child’s disability; OR
- if the conduct in question was the direct result of the LEA’s failure to implement the Section 504 Student Service Plan
If either of these questions are are answered “yes”, then the conduct was a manifestation of the student’s disability and the student must return to school immediately.
If not, the student may be disciplined in the same manner as his or her non-disabled peers. Revisions to the student’s service plan may include strategies and supports, such as conducting a Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA) and creating a Behavioral Intervention Plan (BIP). These strategies may reduce the likelihood that inappropriate behavior occurs in the future and encourage more socially acceptable behaviors within the school setting.
Differences between IDEA and Section 504
Both IDEA and Section 504 guarantee students with disabilities access to a free and appropriate public education. However, there are major differences between them, specifically in the criteria used to determine eligibility and the definition of a free and appropriate public education.
IDEA provides specific categories of disabilities including hearing impairments (including deafness), speech or language impairments, visual impairments (including blindness), emotional disturbance, orthopedic impairments, autism, traumatic brain injury, other health impairments, and specific learning disabilities.
For a student to receive exceptional children education services under IDEA, the student’s educational performance must be adversely affected by the disability and he or she must be in need of special education services (i.e., specially designed instruction). Students with a disability who meet specific IDEA requirements are also protected under Section 504 but do not need a separate service plan. Finally, IDEA applies only to individuals from birth through age 21.
Section 504 is not limited to specific disability categories and does not require evidence that the disability adversely affects the student’s educational performance; however, the definition states that in order to be eligible for a Student Service Plan, the student must “have a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activity or bodily function.” Students ineligible for services provided under IDEA may be eligible for accommodations under Section 504.
Parents who believe their child may be eligible under Section 504 should
first contact their child’s teacher or school-based Section 504 coordinator.
If parents need further information they may contact the CMS District Section 504 Program Manager:
4421 Stuart Andrew Boulevard, 5th Floor
Charlotte, NC 28205
(980) 343-0589 or
Section 504 Help Desk 980-343-0001
A student who is physically unable to attend regular class at school for an extended period of time may qualify for homebound instruction. Homebound instruction is a service provided to allow the student to have access to, and make progress in, their course work. Students must be enrolled in CMS and reside in Mecklenburg County.
Homebound instruction is not meant to replace the education that can be provided through daily attendance at school.
If parents need further information they may contact the CMS Hospital/Homebound Program Manager:
4421 Stuart Andrew Boulevard
Charlotte, NC 28217
Americans with Disabilities Act
In accordance with the requirements of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education (CMS) does not discriminate against any person on the basis of disability in admission or access to the programs, services or activities of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, in the treatment of individuals with disabilities, or in any aspect of operations.
CMS will generally, upon request, provide appropriate aids and services, leading to effective communication for qualified persons with disabilities so they can participate equally in all CMS programs, services, and activities. Individuals with disabilities who require auxiliary aid or service for effective communication should contact the school or department at which the program takes place. Advance notice of at least 48 hours is requested, but not required.
Service animals for individuals with disabilities are allowed on CMS property, even where pets are generally prohibited.
For ADA matters relating to facilities and/or complaints that a CMS program, service or activity is not accessible, please contact the CMS Americans with Disabilities Act Coordinator:
3301 Stafford Drive
Charlotte, NC 28208
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires CMS to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to children who need special education and related services because of a disability.
Programs for Exceptional Children
The primary purpose for Exceptional Children programs is to ensure that students with disabilities develop academically, physically and emotionally through the provision of an appropriate and individualized education in the least restrictive environment.
A student with a disability may qualify to receive special education and related services by meeting eligibility criteria in one of the following categories: autism, deaf-blindness, developmental delay (for children ages three through seven), hearing impairment, intellectual disability, multiple disabilities, orthopedic impairment, other health impairment, serious emotional disability, specific learning disability, speech or language impairment, traumatic brain injury, or visual impairment including blindness.
Many students with disabilities are able to have their educational needs met in a regular classroom through the use of supplemental aids and services. This may include accommodations and/or modifications to the curriculum, specially designed instruction by a special education provider in an inclusive setting, or the provision of support and training for staff who work with the student. Some students with disabilities require more intensive support to be successful and may receive small group or individualized instruction by a special education teacher and/ or related service provider outside of the general education classroom. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools offers a full continuum of services to meet the needs of all students with a disability.
Content Sequence and Learning Outcomes
Students with disabilities may be instructed and assessed via the North Carolina Standard Course of Study or through the Extended Content Standards. The Individualized Education Program (IEP) states in writing the special education services to be provided to each student with a disability and the method in which each student will be assessed.
Parental Notice (FERPA)
Pursuant to the requirements of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education (the Board) will share certain student information with Medicaid and its authorized representatives. The information will only be used to request reimbursement from Medicaid for certain medical services that the District provides to students pursuant to their Individualized Education Program (IEP) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
The student information is limited and may include the following: the student’s name; date of birth; Medicaid number; IEP documentation, including evaluations; the dates and times services are provided to the student at school; and reports of the student’s progress, including notes, and progress notes.
The District may not require parents to sign up for or enroll in any public benefits or insurance programs or require parents to incur an out-of-pocket expense, such as a deductible or co-payment. The District may not use a student’s Medicaid benefits if the use would decrease available lifetime coverage or any other insured benefit, result in the parent paying for services that would otherwise be covered by Medicaid, increase premiums or lead to the discontinuation of benefits, or risk the loss of eligibility for home and community-based waivers based on aggregate health-related expenditures. The District is required to obtain parental or student consent (if 18) in order to disclose Medicaid billing information about a service provided to this student. If you are a parent or guardian of a student who may receive such eligible services, or if you have reached the age of 18 and receive or may receive such eligible services, you will receive a consent form to sign at the student’s next annual review. You may revoke your consent at any time. Revoking or refusing parental consent does not relieve the District of its responsibility to continue providing necessary services at no cost to the parent.
For a complete explanation about parental right of students with disabilities, please consult the Procedural Safeguards: Handbook on Parents’ Rights, (English: https://www.dpi.nc.gov/parent-rights-handbook/download?attachment
Spanish: https://www.dpi.nc.gov/parent-rights-handbook-spanish/download?attachment) which is available at all schools, from the Exceptional Children Department, on the CMS website or from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (www.dpi.state.nc.us).
Where to Get Assistance
If you have questions about the need for Exceptional Children services or the program in your school, please contact the school directly and ask to speak with the Exceptional Children Department chairperson.
For additional information or assistance, you may contact:
Exceptional Children Department
4421 Stuart Andrew Blvd, Suite 500
Charlotte, NC 28217
For TTY calls, use:
Relay North Carolina