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The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is concerned with providing special education to children with disabilities who would benefit from such special education. It is designed to meet their unique educational needs. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, on the other hand, is concerned with protecting individuals with disabilities from discrimination based upon those disabilities. They are entitled, as is relevant in this context, to equal access to education; the same access to a free appropriate public education that a child without this disability has. They are not entitled to the educational benefits that a child under IDEA is entitled to: An individualized education program (IEP) geared to meet that child's unique needs from which the child receives educational benefit. Under Section 504 the child is entitled to access but under IDEA the child is entitled to educational benefit.
A child with a disability may be eligible for special education under IDEA. On the other hand, he may have a disability but does not need the special education provided for under IDEA. He still, however, may be protected under Section 504 if he has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity (for example, learning). One child with ADD when given certain accommodations, such as more time to take tests, may not need special education. He would be getting that additional time to take tests under Section 504 because otherwise he is effectively being discriminated against because of his disability. He has an identified physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. Another child with ADD may need a modified curriculum and, hence, special education under the IDEA.
A significant difference between these two Acts is the level of procedural safeguards the child (and parent) is entitled to. Procedural safeguards are quite extensive under IDEA, but not so under Section 504. Another difference is in the area of discipline: If a child protected by IDEA is expelled from school that child still has a right to a free appropriate public education (FAPE) which a child under the protection of Section 504 does not have.
I have heard that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 may be relevant for my child who has a disability.
Law Offices of Michael D. Kaufman, PLLC