- The U.S. Department of Education is still drafting proposed regulations for Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that many educators, parents and advocates hope will clarify how student accommodations under that law align or depart from the rights of students with disabilities under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
- The proposed rule was expected to be released in August, and the Education Department has not publicly announced a new release timeline. However, the regulatory plans are likely months away, as an Office of Management and Budget dashboard shows the proposed rule is not yet under review.
- The department announced in 2022 that it was making the first major update to Section 504 rules since they were issued 46 years ago.
About 15% of public school students, or 7.3 million, received services under IDEA in 2021-22, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. By contrast, only 1.4 million students were served solely under Section 504, according to Civil Rights Data Collection figures from 2017-18 — the most recent available data under the CRDC.
Students may be eligible for services and accommodations under both IDEA and Section 504.
The Education Department had originally expected to issue proposed Section 504 regulations in May 2023. When the initiative to update the regulations was announced in May 2022, the department began informally collecting public input. By early July 2022, it had received about 400 comments and had held more than a dozen listening sessions.
Myrna Mandlawitz, a policy and legislative consultant representing the Council of Administrators of Special Education, said CASE supports technical updates to Section 504 rules but would be concerned if efforts are made to make the regulations a "mini IDEA."
"We really feel like these are two very separate laws with very different and distinct purposes," Mandlawitz said. "We think they're already over-conflated, and we don't want them to be further conflated."
She added that Section 504 is an anti-discrimination law, and IDEA specifically addresses educational services.
Disability rights advocates, on the other hand, said in a letter to the Education Department sent in July 2022 that they'd like to see certain alignment between the two laws. For example, the letter recommended the rules should clarify that schools can consolidate IDEA and 504 eligibility meetings to ensure students’ needs are being adequately met.
"The regulations must make clear that when a child is found ineligible for services under IDEA, a district and school team is encouraged to automatically pivot and move from the IDEA eligibility determination meeting to a discussion about the individual’s eligibility under Section 504," said the letter sent by the Consortium for Constituents with Disabilities' Education Task Force and signed by just over three dozen organizations.
Last week, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued proposed rules for Section 504 as it applies to access to health care for people with disabilities.