Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a forty-five-year-old law that serves to protect certain individuals from disability-based discrimination. This law prohibits entities that receive federal funding, like schools, from denying people with disabilities equal opportunity to program benefits, services, and funding.
Individuals are qualified under Section 504 if they have a disability as defined by the laws and the guidance promulgated. “Disability,” under the statute, is a condition that severely impairs a person's life. For example, conditions like the following could be considered a disability under Section 504:
- Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Mental illness
- Vision Issues and/or blindness
- Hearing impairment and/or deafness
- Substance abuse disorders
Under Section 504, organizations that receive funding from the federal government must not discriminate against individuals suffering from the above-described conditions, among others.
New Amendments to Section 504
Recently, the U.S. Department of Education announced an intent to make changes to Section 504, noting the law hasn't changed much since the 1970s, as discussed in an article published by Newswires. It may yet be some time before rule changes are suggested, as the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is still requesting input from the public. The advice the OCR receives will help inform it of what issues need addressing in future amendments.
For now, we don't know how the statue will be changed, if at all. We can assume that there's certainly room for change, though. When changes are made to federal laws, the effects ripple through colleges and universities as staff and students alike try to implement new policies and procedures.
Statutory amendments have effective dates, not grace periods, and it is difficult for schools and students to adjust to how the new law affects them. Confusion can and will occur as academic institutions, who've been operating in a certain way since the '70s, figure out how to pivot. These changes may prove extremely helpful, or they may be difficult to interpret. Whatever the outcome, those involved with any investigation concerning Section 504 should obtain legal counsel when navigating those investigations.
Obtain Experienced Student Defense Counsel
Students and their parents don't always understand they can hire an attorney-advisor to help them through investigations involving their school. Importantly, it isn't just allowed, but it's advisable. Schools will have their own legal advocates, and students likewise deserve competent representation in front of their schools' administrative body.
If you or someone you love is struggling to navigate a Section 504 claim at school, contact experienced attorney-advisor Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm. Attorney Lento has unparalleled experience helping students throughout the nation, and he possesses vast skill sets, including how to facilitate effective communication between you and your school and a legal understanding of existing laws and changes made to them. To learn how Attorney Lento and the Lento Law Firm can help you, call 888-535-3686 or contact us online.