Maine’s public preschool programs and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

The following information is provided to ensure that all Maine school districts are aware that Section 504 applies to public 4-year old programs. If districts are in partnership with Head Start programs, both entities are responsible for adhering to the requirements of this law. Section 504 is not the responsibility of Child Development Services (CDS).

The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) enforces Section 504 in programs and activities that receive any federal financial assistance from the US Department of Education (ED) and/or the US Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS).

To be protected under Section 504, a student must be determined to: (1) have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities and/or major bodily functions; or (2) have a record of such impairment; or (3) be regarded as having such impairment.

To be identified for services under Section 504, a student must be determined to have: a disability that substantially limits a major life function or major bodily function and that requires accommodations and/or modifications to access the general education in the school. Section 504 requires that school districts and Head Start agencies provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to qualified students through a Section 504 Individual Service Plan (ISP) designed to meet the individual needs of such students to the same extent as the needs of students without disabilities are met. Section 504 is designed to meet the individual needs of such students to the same extent as the needs of students without disabilities are met.

In the educational context, OCR has been given administrative authority to enforce Section 504. Section 504 is a Federal statute that may be enforced through the US Education Department’s administrative process or through the Federal court system. Furthermore, each School Administrative Unit (SAU) or Head Start must have a Section 504 grievance procedure that parents may pursue. A person may at any time file a private lawsuit against a school district or Head Start agency.

For SAUs in partnership with Head Start, it is strongly recommended the two entities work together to meet the needs of any student who may qualify for Section 504 accommodations and/or, modifications and related services and the details of the requirements are outlined in the annual Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the school and the Head Start agency.

For a thorough explanation of Section 504, visit the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services websites.

For more information contact Maine DOE’s Early Childhood Consultant Sue Reed at susan.d.reed@maine.gov or call 624-6632.