Section 504 in public schools, to be fair, is closely aligned with IDEA requirements in federal regulations. This is a reflection of our differing attitudes and expectations of school-aged children as opposed to adults. Here are a few more important distinctions to remember when making the transition from high school 504 services to higher education:
In higher education - as well as in employment, public services and public accommodations - the individual with a disability bears the burden of proof. Unlike public schools, there are no requirements for providing evaluation of individuals with disabilities. The person with a disability must provide the evidence themselves. In public schools, whether under IDEA or Section 504, the school is responsible for adequate and regular assessments. This is no longer the case once a student leaves high school and attends a college or university. A 504 Plan from a high school - or for that matter, an IEP - is in no way binding upon any institution or entity outside of the school in which it was developed. There are no requirements for any plan under Section 504 or the ADA with respect to higher education, employment or other areas of public life. Thus there are no more meetings each year with counselors, teachers, etc. There is nothing to sign. "Free and Appropriate Education" (FAPE), first put forth in law under special education legislation in 1975 no longer applies. Though it is still referenced as a requirement for high school under regulations governing Section 504, there are no such references with respect to higher education in any federal regulations for either Section 504 or the ADA. Rather, higher education carries with it necessary costs, and students with disabilities must pay the same as their non-disabled peers. In higher education, then, FAPE is not regarded as a part of 504's nondiscrimination prohibitions. In all areas outside of public schools, nondiscrimination is accomplished by means of barrier removal, including "reasonable accommodations. (Note: Accommodations may not carry with them an additional charge of any kind, however.)" The term "otherwise qualified individual with a disability" carries a different connotation, and subsequently greater weight and responsibility on the part of the individual than may have been the case in high school, and certainly elementary school. It means that students must meet academic standards. In public schools, this refers only to the age of the individual as being appropriate for elementary or high school. In higher education, it ultimately refers to a student's academic proficiency and ability to demonstrate learning. Integration is the order of the day. Terms such as "placement" and "least restrictive environment" are no longer valid. Placement in an environment which is restrictive or protective in any way would be a violation of an individual's civil rights, and counter to the spirit of Section 504 and the ADA. Some services provided to high school students under Section 504 may not be provided in higher education, because they in fact reduce the academic standards. Shortening assignments, for example, is viewed as compromising academic standards, and therefore is not "reasonable" to request in college. Perhaps the most important result of these differences lies in the changes in expectations for students with disabilities. That is, students with disabilities, such as Learning Disabilities and Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorders, aren't always expected to perform or achieve at the same levels as their peers in high school. In other words, they aren't always expected to learn as much. In higher education, therefore, students with disabilities must possess higher level skills in all aspects of learning -- skills and strategies commensurate with the academic expectations in higher education and, later, professional careers. These necessitate more sophisticated strategies in many cases. Reasonable accommodations can create a level playing field, but once achieved, the student must then demonstrate their skills and knowledge adequately.
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