Section 504 is part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. It is a national civil rights law that protects qualified individuals from discrimination based on their disabilities. It is designed to eliminate discrimination in programs and activities that receive federal funds. Since all public schools receive federal funding, all public school districts must comply with Section 504.
Section 504 is not meant to maximize a student's potential. It is meant to level the playing field so that disabled students have the opportunity to participate and benefit from educational academic and extra curricular programs. It requires school districts to meet the needs of disabled students as adequately as the needs of non-disabled students. Because Section 504 seeks equality of opportunity and benefit between the disabled and non-disabled students, it relies on making comparisons between the student being evaluated with his/her non-disabled peers.
Section 504 requires school districts to provide free appropriate public education (FAPE) to each qualified student within the district who has a disability that substantially limits his/her participation in or benefit from programs and activities, regardless of the severity of the disability.