Disability Discrimination in Schools

Authored By: U.S. Department of Education

About

Federal Law and Disability Discrimination in Schools

Section 504 is a federal law that prohibits any entity that receives federal financial assistance (such as grants or student loans) from discriminating against persons with disabilities.

Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act is a federal law that prohibits state and local governments (such as public school districts, public colleges and universities, and public libraries) from discriminating against persons with disabilities.

In general, Section 504 and Title II nondiscrimination standards are the same, and in general, actions that violate Section 504 also violate Title II. However, where Title II requirements exceed Section 504 requirements, public school districts, colleges and universities, and libraries must also comply with the Title II requirements.

Person with a disability means a person with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity; has a record of such an impairment; or is regarded as having such an impairment. The determination of whether a student has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity (and therefore has a disability) must be made on a case by case basis. In addition, when determining if someone meets the definition of a disability, the definition must be viewed to provide broad coverage of individuals. For more information about the definition of disability, see here.

Generally, yes. All public school districts are covered by Section 504 and/or Title II – this includes public charter schools and magnet schools. All public colleges and universities are covered by Section 504 and Title II. Virtually all private colleges and universities are also covered by Section 504 because they receive federal financial assistance by participating in federal student aid programs. There are some private schools that do not receive any federal assistance, and Section 504 and Title II do not apply to them.

Yes. All programs in a school or college are covered by Section 504 if the school district, college, or university receives federal financial assistance. Section 504 covers all the operations of a school or college that receives financial assistance including academics, extracurricular activities, athletics, and other programs. Section 504 applies to actions of a school or college regardless of where they occur, including those that take place in the facilities of the school, on a school bus, at a class or training program sponsored by the school at another location, or elsewhere off campus.

OCR handles cases of disability discrimination involving a range of issues, such as inaccessible facilities; unequal access to advanced academic programsextracurricular athletics, and accessible technology; the failure to provide elementary and secondary students a free appropriate public education (FAPE), discriminatory discipline, the denial to college students of appropriate academic adjustments and auxiliary aids and servicesdisability harassment.

Generally, yes. All school districts, colleges, and universities receiving federal financial assistance and employing 15 or more persons must designate at least one employee to coordinate their efforts to comply with and carry out their responsibilities under Section 504. This person is often, though not always, referred to as a Section 504 coordinator.

Your school is required to publish your Section 504 coordinator’s contact information in your school’s notice of nondiscrimination, typically found in any bulletins, announcements, publications, catalogs, application forms, or other recruitment materials. The Section 504 coordinator’s contact information should also be prominently posted on your school’s website. Section 504 coordinators for public school districts can also be found on OCR’s coordinators website at http://www.ed.gov/civ-rts-coordinators.

Disability Discrimination Links

To find more information on disability discrimination laws, you can visit the Office for Civil Rights homepage. 

Last Review and Update: Sep 21, 2022
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