Connecticut compliance with Section 504: Policies and procedures

Date of Completion

January 2003


Education, Administration|Education, Educational Psychology




Within the educational setting, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is fast becoming one of the most prevalent and misinterpreted pieces of legislation. Section 504 is a civil rights statute mandating equal access for persons with disabilities. The definition of disability under 504 is much broader than under special education, with few clear guidelines for schools on how to address the procedural requirements of the law. Until recently, Section 504 has been largely been ignored by school districts, but recent legislative enforcement, court decisions, and parent advocacy efforts have heightened public awareness. Tied to this awareness are concerns about the over-identification of students seeking disability labels to obtain testing accommodations or individualized instruction. The penalties for noncompliance with 504, which may include compensatory education, attorney fees, and expensive corrective actions, are numerous and severe. For protection against these sanctions, school districts must implement appropriate 504 procedures, yet there are few guidelines on how to accomplish this. Little case law nor previous research exists on this subject. The purpose of this study was to investigate procedural compliance with Section 504 mandates. This was done through an analysis of district policies and the complaints submitted against districts to the Office of Civil Rights (OCR). The impact of community wealth was also examined. To assess these issues, a questionnaire was developed and mailed to all Special Education Directors in the State of Connecticut to identify procedures being used in their districts. The hypothesis was that districts with high compliance levels, those with appropriate 504 procedures in place, would have fewer complaints submitted to OCR. It was also anticipated that districts with the highest and lowest levels of community wealth would have more complaints submitted to OCR. Chi-square and correlation analyses were employed to assess the relationships between variables. Statistically significant relationships (p < .05) were found between the use of specific procedures, OCR complaints, and community wealth. These results are used to address the implications for educational practice for public schools. ^