Private Schools and accommodations under Section 504 is a frequent area of concern for our clients. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (which is where the term “504 plan” comes from) is meant to be an anti-discrimination law. It does not require that private schools make major modifications to their programs, or provide Individualized Education Programs. Only certain parts of Section 504 apply to private schools, and in many cases, religious schools have even fewer obligations. When you read about 504 obligations in schools generally, remember that some of what you read applies to public schools only. However, that does not mean that private schools have no obligations under Section 504– they do.
Private religious schools that receive federal funding ARE subject to Section 504 (there may be an exception here, but let’s not get too far into the weeds). The type of funding that can obligate a school to section 504 responsibilities may be surprising– professional development, lunch or milk programs, and other funding that may seem “minor” or unrelated to instruction may count when it comes from the federal government (funding to the school’s sponsoring religious institution may also count– if the school has one– like a church or synagogue). That means that many private schools, including religious schools, are required to provide accommodations under Section 504.
However, even religious private schools that do not accept funds may be subject to some of the 504 requirements (for example related to facilities), 34 C.F.R. § 104.34, and equal access to extracurriculars, 34 C.F.R. § 104.37.
Section 504 does not require a private school to modify its essential enrollment criteria. Section 504 also does not require substantial modification to a private school program. Some examples of a substantial modification may be significant teacher time, or hiring extra staff.
Public schools also maintain “child find” obligations for children in their district– “Child find” is the obligation to assess and identify students with disabilities, even if they attend private schools.
A 504 plan is different than an IEP. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is primarily enforced by the Office for Civil Rights within the U.S Department of Education (DOE). Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is different, but has many similarities to, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).