SECTION 504 OF THE REHABILITATION ACT OF 1973
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a federal law designed to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities. Section 504 covers qualified students with disabilities who attend schools and determined to:
(1) have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; or
(2) have a record of such an impairment; or
(3) be regarded as having such an impairment.
A major life activity includes: caring for one's self; performing manual tasks; walking; seeing; hearing; speaking; breathing; learning; working; eating; sleeping; standing; lifting; bending; reading; concentrating; thinking; communicating; major bodily functions; immune system; normal cell growth; digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions
Section 504 requires that school districts provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to qualified students who have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities noted above.
If a student is thought to have a disability under Section 504, they have a right to an evaluation and determination made by persons knowledgeable about the student. A written plan, (504 Plan) must be developed documenting the presence of a disability which substantially limits a major life activity and a statement of the accommodations and/or related services that will be made. The building principal is directly responsible for 504 coordination in their individual school and will review and update 504 plans on a yearly basis.
The Bellingham Public School District has specific responsibilities under the Section 504, which include the responsibility to identify, evaluate, and if the child is determined to be eligible under Section 504, to afford access to appropriate educational services. If the parent of guardian disagrees with the determination made by the professional staff of the school district, he/she has a right to a hearing with an impartial hearing office.
SECTION 504 DUE PROCESS RIGHTS
STUDENT AND PARENT RIGHTS IN IDENTIFICATION, EVALUATION AND PLACEMENT
The following is a description of student and parent rights granted by federal law. The law requires that we keep you fully informed concerning decisions about your child and to inform you of your rights if you disagree with any of these decisions.
PARENTS HAVE THE RIGHT TO:
1. Have your child take part in and receive benefits from public education programs without discrimination based on disability.
2. Have the school district advise you as to your rights under federal law.
3. Receive notice with respect to identification, evaluation, or placement of your child.
4. Have your child receive a free appropriate public education. This includes the right to be educated with other students to the maximum extent appropriate. It also includes the right to have the school district make reasonable accommodations to allow your child an equal opportunity to participate in school and school-related activities.
5. Have your child educated in facilities and receive services comparable to those provided to students without disabilities.
6. Have your child receive special education and related services if he/she is found to be eligible under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) (PL 101-476), or to receive reasonable accommodations under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.
7. Have evaluation, education, and placement decisions made based upon a variety of information sources and by individuals who know the student, the evaluation data, and placement options.
8. Have transportation provided to a school placement setting at no greater cost to you than would be incurred if the student were placed in a program operated by the school district.
9. Have your child given an equal opportunity to participate in nonacademic and extracurricular activities offered by the school district.
10. Examine all relevant records relating to decisions regarding your child’s identification, educational program, and placement.
11. Obtain copies of educational records at a reasonable cost if the fee would effectively deny you access to the records.
12. Receive a response from the school district to reasonable requests for explanation and interpretations of your child’s records.
13. Request an amendment of your child’s educational records if there is reasonable cause to believe that they are inaccurate, misleading or otherwise in violation of the privacy rights of your child. If the school district refuses this request, it shall notify you within a reasonable time and advise you of the right to a hearing.
14. File a local grievance through your building principal.
15. Request an impartial due process hearing to decisions regarding your child’s identification, education program or placement. You and your child may take part in the hearing and have an attorney represent you. Hearing requests must be made to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Department of Education, Bureau of Special Education Appeals, 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148-5023.
16. Appeal to the Office of Civil Rights (OCR), Region I, U.S. Department of Education, John W. McCormack Post Office and Courthouse Square, Room 222, Boston, MA 02700.
17. Ask for payment for reasonable attorney fees if you are successful on your claim.
The building principal is responsible at each school for Section 504 compliance. On the district level, Rachel Lawrence serves as Section 504 coordinator and can be contacted at Bellingham School District, 4 Mechanic Street, Bellingham, MA 02019, telephone number 508-883-1706.
SECTION 504/ADA GRIEVANCE PROCEDURES
The Bellingham Public Schools does not discriminate and will not tolerate discrimination on the basis of disability with regard to admission, access to aids, benefits and services, treatment, or employment in its programs or activities. Disability discrimination includes harassment based on disability or retaliation against a complainant or individual who has cooperated with the investigation of a complaint. These grievance procedures apply to conduct directed toward students, employees, or third parties by students, employees, or third parties. District employees are obligated to intervene and stop any discrimination they witness or otherwise learn of and to immediately report the incident to the principal or Section 504/ADA Coordinator.
Please note that during the investigation and until resolution of the matter, interim measures may be issued, such as restrictions on contact between the complainant and the accused or changes in academic schedule. Where there is a finding of discrimination, the District will take prompt and effective steps to end the discrimination, prevent its recurrence, and remedy its effects.
Any alleged discriminatory practices within the scope of Section 504 or the Americans with Disabilities Act should be addressed through the grievance procedures which follows:
Step 1 (Informal Process)
A complainant who believes he/she has a valid basis for grievance under Section 504 or the Americans with Disabilities Act may informally discuss the complaint with the principal. In the event that the complaint is against the principal or main administration staff, the complainant will proceed to Step 2. The principal may pursue an informal resolution of the complaint with the agreement of the parties involved.
Alternatively, in the event that the complaint addresses a district-wide issue or informal resolution is not appropriate, the principal will refer the matter to the District 504/ADA Coordinator to proceed under Step 2. The principal will have ten (10) school days to complete Step 1 unless the District 504/ADA Coordinator grants a reasonable extension. The complainant may end the informal process at any point.
Step 2 (Formal Process)
If the complainant is not satisfied with the resolution under Step 1 or chooses not to pursue the informal process, the complainant may file the grievance in writing, using the complaint form available in every main office, with the District 504/ADA Coordinator within ten (10) school days of disposition at Step 1 or 90 school days from the incident. In the event that the complaint is against the District 504/ADA Coordinator, the Superintendent will replace the District 504/ADA Coordinator for Step 2. The District 504/ADA Coordinator will assist the complainant with reducing a verbal complaint to writing as needed.
The District 504/ADA Coordinator (or designee, e.g., principal) will conduct an impartial investigation and document the investigation (including dates of meetings/interviews with the parties and other individuals who may have pertinent information, disposition, reasoning behind the disposition and dates of disposition). The District 504/ADA Coordinator will give both parties the opportunity to present witnesses and other evidence. If the investigation requires additional time due to the complexity of the issues, availability of witnesses, or any other reason, the District 504/ADA Coordinator (or designee) will communicate regularly with the complainant and conclude the investigation in a reasonable time period.
The District 504/ADA Coordinator (or designee) will give a written reply to the complainant and accused within ten (10) school days of the conclusion of the investigation that explains whether the allegation, based on a preponderance of the evidence, was supported or not supported and, as permitted under privacy laws, actions taken if relevant. The District 504/ADA Coordinator will present a full report of the investigation and disposition to the Superintendent within twenty (20) school days of the conclusion of the investigation.
Step 3 (Formal Appeal Process)
If the complaint is not satisfactorily resolved through Step 2, the complainant or accused may file a written appeal to the Superintendent.
To be considered, the written appeal must fully set out the circumstances giving rise to the alleged grievance and should be filed with the Superintendent's Office within ten (10) school days of the date of the written reply to the complainant and the accused at Step 2. The Superintendent will review the investigatory record and findings and gather any further evidence as deemed necessary within ten (10) school days after receipt of the grievance. Within another ten (10) school days, the Superintendent will issue a written disposition of the alleged grievance.
Step 4 (Alternatives)
At any time, a complainant may choose to file a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education, Region I, 5 Post Office Square, 8th Floor, Boston, MA 02109-3921, (617) 289-0111.