Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 protects the rights of individuals with disabilities in programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance, including federal funds. Section 504 provides that: “No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States . . . shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance . . .”
The U.S. Department of Education (ED) enforces Section 504 in programs and activities that receive funds from ED. Recipients of these funds include public school districts, institutions of higher education, and other state and local education agencies. ED has published a regulation implementing Section 504 (34 C.F.R. Part 104) and maintains an Office for Civil Rights (OCR), with 12 enforcement offices and a headquarters office in Washington, D.C., to enforce Section 504 and other civil rights laws that pertain to recipients of funds.
The Section 504 regulation requires a school district to provide a “free appropriate public education” (FAPE) to each qualified person with a disability who is in the school district’s jurisdiction, regardless of the nature or severity of the person’s disability.
This pamphlet answers the following questions about FAPE according to Section 504:
- Who is entitled to a free appropriate public education?
- How is an appropriate education defined?
- How is a free education defined?
Who Is Entitled to FAPE?
All qualified persons with disabilities within the jurisdiction of a school district are entitled to a free appropriate public education. The ED Section 504 regulation defines a person with a disability as “any person who: (i) has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities, (ii) has a record of such an impairment, or (iii) is regarded as having such an impairment."
For elementary and secondary education programs, a qualified person with a disability is a person with a disability who is:
- of an age during which it is mandatory under state law to provide such services to persons with disabilities;
- of an age during which persons without disabilities are provided such services; or
- entitled to receive a free appropriate public education under theIndividuals with Disabilities Education Act(IDEA). (IDEAis discussed later in the pamphlet.)
In general, all school-age children who are individuals with disabilities as defined by Section 504 andIDEAare entitled to FAPE.
For complete details on FAPE, please see the US Department of Education website athttps://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/edlite-FAPE504.html