Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
What is Section 504?
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability:
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 [.]
This means that schools that receive federal funding need to meet the needs of students with diabetes as well as they meet the needs of students without disabilities. Often, schools need to provide reasonable modifications and accommodations. Some examples include:
- A school provides alternate physical education activities for a student with asthma who cannot run.
- A school moves a class in an inaccessible classroom to one that a student who uses a wheelchair can use.
- School staff members check blood glucose and administer insulin for a student with diabetes.
Are students with diabetes covered by Section 504?
Yes. There is agreement that students with diabetes are covered under Section 504. Students are covered by Section 504 if they have a disability, defined as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Major life activities include the functioning of major bodily systems such as the endocrine system. Diabetes, by its very definition, limits the functioning of the endocrine system. In guidance, the Office for Civil Rights of the Department of Education states:
While there are no per se disabilities under Section 504…the nature of many impairments is such that, in virtually every case, a determination in favor of disability will be made. Thus, for example, a school district should not need or require extensive documentation or analysis to determine that a child with diabetes, epilepsy, bipolar disorder, or autism has a disability under Section 504[.]
Unlike the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Section 504 does not require that students have any learning challenges. It protects honors students and student who struggle academically equally.
Does Section 504 apply to all schools?
All schools that receive federal funding must comply with Section 504. All public schools receive federal funding and therefore must comply. Private and religious schools that receive federal funding must also comply, but their obligations are somewhat different.
What do public schools need to do to comply with Section 504?
Some of the most important requirements are to:
- Identify children with disabilities
- Provide a "free appropriate public education" (FAPE) to each child with a disability
- Educate children with disabilities with other students as much as possible
- Allow parents/guardians to participate meaningfully in decisions about their children
- Give children with disabilities an equal opportunity to participate in non-academic and extracurricular activities
What do public schools need to do to comply with Section 504 for students with diabetes?
Schools must provide reasonable modifications and accommodations to policies and procedures and provide related aids and services so that students with diabetes are given an equal educational opportunity.
In plain English, among other things, schools typically need to make sure that:
- Staff members are trained to check blood glucose levels and administer insulin and glucagon.
- Staff members with immediate custodial care of students with diabetes are trained to recognize high and low blood sugar levels and know what to do in an emergency. This includes gym teachers and bus drivers.
- Students are allowed to self-manage their diabetes if they are capable of doing so.
- Students can fully participate in all sports, extracurricular activities, and field trips. This may require that trained staff are available to supervise or provide diabetes care. (Parental attendance cannot be required as a condition of participation.)
- Students may take extra trips to the bathroom or water fountain.
- Extra absences for medical appointments and sick days are permitted.
- Academic adjustments for classroom time missed for medical appointments, testing, or because of periods of high or low blood sugar are made.
What is the best way to make sure Section 504 is followed?
The best way to make sure that the needs of students with diabetes are met is to put in place a Section 504 Plan. This plan puts school staff, the student, and parents and guardians on the same page. A good Section 504 Plan helps everyone work together as a team and avoid misunderstandings.