SECTION 504 OF THE REHABILITATION ACT OF 1973
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation "Act of 1973” is a major federal legislation that impacts entities that receive federal funding, including local school districts. It is a civil rights law that is designed to protect disabled individuals from unlawful discrimination on the basis of their disability. The law states:
No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States, as defined in Section 705(20) of this title, shall, solely by reason of his or her 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…
Under Section 504, a person is disabled if that person
1. Has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more of such person’s major life activities,
2. Has a record of such an impairment, or
3. Is regarded as having such impairment.
Major life activities include walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, working, caring for oneself, and performing manual tasks. Impairment need only substantially limit one major life activity to be considered a disability under Section 504.
A qualified handicapped individual means:
1. With respect to employment, a handicapped person who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the job in question.
2. With respect to public preschool, elementary, secondary, or adult educational programs a handicapped person is:
a) Of an age during which non-handicapped persons are provided such services, or
b) Of any age during which it is mandatory under state law to provide such services to handicapped persons, or
c) To which a state is required to provide a free appropriate public education under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
Chapter 766 in Massachusetts General Laws and the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), also deal with disabled students. To be eligible under these special education laws, a disability must be shown to cause the student to be performing unsatisfactorily in school. Under Section 504, no relationship to school performance is needed. An identified disability that substantially limits a major life activity is all that is needed in order for an individual to be protected under Section 504.
Students with disabilities who do not qualify under Chapter 766 or IDEA may qualify for accommodations under Section 504. If a student is thought to have a disability under Section 504, he or she will be evaluated to determine what, if any, reasonable accommodations are necessary to enable that student to access the educational opportunities available to non-disabled students. If accommodations will be extended, a plan will be developed documenting the presence of a disability that substantially limits a major life function and a statement of the accommodations that will be made.
Following is the policy of Sutton Public Schools with respect to Section 504, which incorporates the school district’s grievance procedures.
Policies and Procedures
Statement of Intent
It is the policy of Sutton Public Schools to comply with all the relevant and applicable provisions of Section 504. The Sutton Public Schools will not discriminate against its faculty, students, or parents on the basis of a person’s disability. The Sutton Public Schools also will make reasonable accommodations, wherever necessary, to afford opportunities for disabled individuals that are equal to those available to non-disabled individuals.
The Sutton Public Schools' policy of nondiscrimination applies to all personnel and employment practices (see ADA policies and practices) and all public preschool, elementary, and secondary programs and activities.
Access to Programs and Services
The Sutton Public Schools will periodically review its own policies, procedures, and practices with respect to location, identification, evaluation, programming and placement of students with disabilities, and with respect to its employment practices.
To ensure access to programs and services Sutton will:
- Undertake to identify and locate all disabled persons residing in the district who are not receiving a free and appropriate public education,
- Notify disabled persons and their parents of Sutton's obligation under Section 504,
- Provide special education and related services, and/or reasonable accommodations designed to provide a free appropriate education to disabled persons as equally as to non‑disabled persons,
- Offer educational plans and related services without cost to the disabled person or his/her parent or guardian, except for those needs that are imposed on non‑disabled persons or their parent or guardian,
- Ensure that adequate transportation to and from a program outside of the school district is provided at no greater cost than would be incurred by the person or his or her parents or guardian if the person were in a program in the district,
- Provide, where necessary, placements in public or private residential facilities including non‑medical care and room and board at no cost to the disabled person or his or her parents or guardian,
- Ensure that no qualified disabled person is excluded from public elementary or secondary education,
- Educate each disabled person to the maximum extent appropriate with persons who are not disabled. Where alternative settings are necessary to provide equally effective benefits, the proximity of the alternative setting will be taken into account,
- Arrange for non‑academic and extracurricular services so that disabled persons are afforded access that is equal to access provided to non-disabled persons,
- Ensure that any facility identified as being for disabled persons is comparable to the facilities, services, and activities in the Sutton Public Schools,
- Conduct evaluation of any person, who because of a disability, needs or is believed to need reasonable accommodations, prior to initial placement or any substantial change in placement,
- Use tests and other evaluation material validated for the purpose for which they are used and administered by trained personnel in conformance with instructions by their producer,
- Use tests and other materials tailored to access specific areas of educational need and not merely to provide a single general intelligence quotient,
- Ensure that students with impaired sensory, manual, or speaking skills are administered tests that accurately reflect the student’s aptitude or achievement level,
- Make placement decisions based upon information from a variety of sources and by persons knowledgeable about the child,
- Establish procedures to ensure that information from all sources is carefully considered and documented and that the student who is provided special education and related services is reevaluated periodically,
- Provide non-academic and extracurricular services and activities in a manner that offers disabled persons an equal opportunity to participate in these services and activities, and
- Provide disabled persons the opportunity to participate in any preschool or adult education program or activity offered with the Sutton Public Schools and provide reasonable accommodations, if necessary, to make such opportunity available.
No qualified individual with a disability shall, on the basis of such disability, be subject to discrimination in employment in any district program or activity.
No candidate for hiring shall be required to answer a question whether he or she has a disability, and no such candidate will be discriminated against on the basis of a disability that is not directly related to the essential functions of the positions for which he/she has applied. This stipulation does not prohibit the school district from making inquiry, where needed, on such things as the candidate’s ability to perform particular job related tasks, to ensure that a candidate is not afflicted with a currently contagious disease or infection which would constitute a direct threat to staff or students, or to determine if the applicant is a current user of drugs or alcohol whose current use would prevent the candidate from performing the essential functions of the job or would constitute a direct threat to the property or safety of others.
Any pre-employment medical examinations will be administered to all disabled and non-disabled candidates on an equal basis, and the results of such examinations will be treated in a confidential manner.
The school district will make reasonable accommodations to know the physical or mental limitations of an otherwise qualified applicant or employee unless the accommodation would impose an undue hardship. Employees who will require accommodations in order to perform the essential functions of their positions should make this information know to Ms. Cheryl Sherman, who will initiate an interactive process to discuss possible accommodations.
Administration and Implementation
Ms. Sherman is directly responsible for Section 504 for the Sutton Public Schools and has the complete support of management in the implementation of this program. Ms. Sherman will be responsible for the following functions:
- Development of policy statements, guidelines, and internal and external communications about the requirements of the Section 504 and the district's compliance program,
- Meeting with employees to discuss any problems or concerns that may arise in accommodating individuals with disabilities to ensure that the program is being followed,
- Determining the need for remedial action and designing policies to correct deficiencies in the program, and
- Serving as liaison between the Sutton Public Schools and enforcement agencies, persons with disabilities, and organizations representing individuals with disabilities.
Any person having inquiries concerning the Sutton Public Schools compliance with Section 504 is directed to contact: Ms. Cheryl Sherman, Sutton Elementary School, Sutton, Massachusetts 01590 (508) 581‑1620.
Dissemination of Policy
The following actions will be taken to ensure dissemination of information about the Sutton Public Schools Section 504 Policy:
- All employees will receive written notice,
- Internal procedures to ensure dissemination will be developed, including training sessions and briefings on the program for all employees, and
- This program or the pertinent parts of it will be printed in the Sutton Public Schools' policy and personnel manuals.
- This program will be posted in a conspicuous place in school buildings.
This program will be available for inspection by employees and applicants during regular working hours. Announcements to this effect have been posted on each facility’s bulletin boards.
Internal Review Procedures
Any student or parent/guardian or current employee who believes that he or she has been discriminated against on the basis of disability has the opportunity to receive a hearing pursuant to the Sutton Public Schools’ grievance procedure, attached hereto.
No individual will be subject to coercion, intimidation, interference, retaliation, or other discrimination for registering a grievance or filing a complaint in any agency or court, or for assisting in the prosecution or investigation of such grievance or complaint.
SECTION 504 GRIEVANCE PROCEDURES
There will be two modes of resolution for grievances under this policy. A grievance may be settled through mediation (Informal Procedure) or through a hearing (Formal Procedure).
All matters concerning the complaint shall remain confidential to the extent practicable. At any point in this process, employees or students may elect to be represented by counsel or union advocates where applicable.
Retaliation due to the lodging of grievances is illegal and shall not be tolerated. Any individual who retaliates against any person because he/she has filed a complaint under this policy, or testified, assisted, or participated in an investigation, proceeding or hearing related to such a complaint will be subject to disciplinary action. Retaliation includes, but is not limited to, any form of intimidation, reprisal, harassment, or denial of an educational opportunity or assistance.
A student parent/guardian or employee who believes he/she has been discriminated against shall report such grievance to Cecilia Di Bella, who is the investigating officer under this procedure. The investigating officer shall look at the totality of the circumstances and the context in which the alleged incident(s) occurred. The investigating officer shall confer with any party reasonably believed to have relevant information in order to obtain a clear understanding of the facts. The investigating officer shall then attempt to resolve the complaint through mediation.
If the complainant agrees to pursue mediation, a date mutually acceptable shall be set up within ten (10) working days of receipt of the grievance. If the mediation results in a mutually acceptable agreement, copies of the agreement shall be forwarded to the grievant, reviewed, signed, and implemented.
If the mediation does not result in a mutually acceptable agreement, or if the parties do no agree to mediation, the grievance shall be handled under the Formal Procedure.
The superintendent may be the hearing officer under this procedure or may appoint another individual to preside.
Under this procedure, the complainant shall submit to the superintendent a clear and concise written description of the alleged act(s) or discrimination and any remedy sought. The complainant must sign the grievance. If the complainant is unable to provide a written grievance, he or she may schedule an appointment with the superintendent, or his/her designee, at which the superintendent or designee will record time the complaint in writing.
The superintendent or designee will convene an investigation, and a hearing will be scheduled to take place within fourteen (14) days of the receipt of the formal grievance.
The complainant will be given an impartial and fair hearing. The proceeding, although formal, is not a court proceeding and the superintendent or her designee will not be bound by the procedures and rules of evidence of a court of law. In most instances, complainants and respondents will be expected to speak for themselves, although, if desired, an advocate at his/her own expense may accompany the complainant.
The superintendent, or designee, shall act as the presiding officer of the hearing and may have counsel present for the purpose of assisting in the orderly conduct of the hearing. The presiding officer shall:
- Define issues of contention,
- Provide a summary to the complainant, at least two (2) days before the hearing, of the facts elicited through the investigation of the grievance,
- Be fair and impartial, ensuring the rights of all parties involved, and present relevant evidence,
- Allow the complainant to present a brief opening statement,
- Receive in an orderly way and consider all relevant evidence that reasonable people customarily rely upon in the conduct of serious business,
- Allow each party to make a concluding statement to the hearing officer, and
- Render a fair and impartial decision, with supporting reasons stated therein, no later than ten (10) working days after the conclusion of the hearing or, when written arguments are permitted, ten (10) working days after their submission.
If, upon receipt of the hearing officer’s decision, the complainant remains dissatisfied, further appeal may be taken. In the case of a student to: The Office of Civil Rights, United States Department of Education, John McCormack Post Office and Courthouse, Room 701, Boston, Massachusetts 02109, or the Bureau of Special Education Appeals, 350 Main Street, Malden, Massachusetts 02148,and in the case of an employee to: Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, One Ashburton Place, 6th Floor, Boston, Massachusetts 02108, or The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, One Congress Street, Room 1001, Boston, Massachusetts 02114.
A complaint alleging a violation of the policy or law, which occurs after November 5, 2002, must be filed with these agencies within 300 days of the last act of discrimination. In certain limited cases, action of a continuing nature or action, which is also subject to a pending grievance, may be filed with these agencies after the expiration of the aforesaid 300-day period.
Legal Review Completed March 25, 2003
Adopted, June 16, 2003
Revised, March 6, 2006