Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) prohibits discrimination on the basis of a disability. Just like elementary, middle and high schools, practically every postsecondary school in the United States is subject to this law. Postsecondary schools can include universities, colleges, seminaries, institutes of technology, and sometimes vocational schools, trade schools, and other career colleges that award academic degrees or professional certifications. Although Section 504 applies to postsecondary schools, the responsibilities of postsecondary schools are different from those of primary and secondary school districts.Section 504 requires a school district to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to each child with a disability in the district’s jurisdiction. Unlike high school, however, a postsecondary school is not required to provide FAPE. A postsecondary school is only required to provide appropriate academic adjustments as necessary to ensure that it does not discriminate on the basis of disability. If a student wants a postsecondary school to provide an academic adjustment based on a disability, the student must identify themselves as having a disability. In providing an academic adjustment, a postsecondary school is not required to lower or substantially modify essential requirements. For example, although the school may be required to provide extended testing time, it is not required to change the substantive content of the test. In addition, a postsecondary school does not have to make adjustments that would fundamentally alter the nature of a service, program, or activity, or that would result in an undue financial or administrative burden. Finally, a postsecondary school does not have to provide personal attendants, individually prescribed devices, readers for personal use or study, or other devices or services such as tutoring and typing.
Requesting an Academic Adjustment Unlike a primary or secondary school district, a postsecondary school is not required to identify a student as having a disability or to assess the students needs. This is the responsibility of the student. A postsecondary school may require the student to follow reasonable procedures to request an academic adjustment. The student is responsible for knowing and following those procedures. Postsecondary schools usually include this information in its student handbook, which is often available on the school’s website. Many schools also have staff whose purpose is to assist students with disabilities. Become familiar with your school’s handbook and make sure you follow the procedures.
Proof of a Disability Generally, a student must prove that they have a disability. Most likely, the school will require documentation showing that there is a current disability and the need for an academic adjustment. Some schools require more documentation than others, and this is permissible. Documentation may include reports prepared by an appropriate professional, such as a medical doctor, psychologist, or other qualified diagnostician. The documentation should provide enough information for the student and the school to decide what is an appropriate academic adjustment.
What Happens if a Postsecondary School has Discriminated against You If you believe that the school has treated you unfairly or discriminated against you regarding your disability, once again, return to the student handbook. The handbook usually describe the steps a student must take to start the grievance process. If no process is outlined, check with administration and do not wait. Many times grievance procedures have very specific time limitations which if not followed may stop you from filing a grievance. If a student is dissatisfied with the outcome of the school’s grievance procedures or wish to pursue a different approach, they may file a complaint against the school with either the United States Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights or in a court of law.Richard Asselta is a Florida education lawyer and the founder of Asselta Law, PA, located in Broward County, Florida. Asselta Law concentrates on Education Law and Appeals. Mr. Asselta is a former school law attorney for a large public school district and draws upon the knowledge gained from the other side of the table to work with teachers and students on legal issues in a variety of educational settings. Visit the about the firm and education law practice pages for more information.