Earlier this week, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Education issued new guidance documents on Section 504 (Sec. 504) of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Sec. 504 prohibits discrimination against students with disabilities by public schools and other institutions receiving federal funds.  The four new guidance documents provide assistance to school districts on Sec. 504 rights of students with specific conditions.

The four guidance documents are:  

A student with any of these conditions can be a student with a disability who is eligible for Sec. 504 protections, if the student’s condition substantially limits one or more of the student’s major life activities. The guidance documents identify how each of these conditions may substantially limit one or more of a student’s major life activities. For example, the guidance document on GER/GERD explains that a student’s major life activities may be substantially limited because the student with GER/GERD:  

  • Frequently arrives late to class due to stomach problems 

  • Is absent from school due to medical appointments. 

  • Falls asleep in class due to an inability to sleep at night.  

  • Leaves class frequently to go to the restroom. 

  • Becomes restless or inattentive during instruction due to chest or throat pain or discomfort.  

The guidance documents also provide suggestions for modifications or accommodations for students to meaningfully access or benefit from the school’s educational opportunities. For example, some of the Sec. 504 modifications suggested for a student with GER/GERD include: 

  • Allowing the student to eat snacks during instruction or go to lunch early or late. 

  • Granting periodic requests by students/parents for distance learning or other instructional materials for use at home when GER/GERD symptoms make it difficult for the student to leave home. 

  • Allowing the student to make up work, without penalty, when GER/GERD symptoms hinder the student’s ability to complete their work. 

  • Excusing late arrivals and absences when the student misses class due to medical appointments. 

  • Allowing the student to leave the classroom to use the restroom as needed.  

The documents also discuss remedies available under Sec. 504.  

These practical guidance documents from OCR will assist districts to ensure that they are meeting Sec. 504 requirements for students with these conditions. OSBA's division of legal services will continue to monitor documents issued by OCR and share them on the Legal Ledger blog.  


Posted by Jennifer A. Hardin on 2/23/2024