How is Section 504 different than special education?

Section 504 is similar to special education in some ways, yet very different in other ways. Section 504 eligibility is broader than special education, in that special education limits eligibility to 13 categories of “disabilities” and requires an educational need for services. Section 504 law does not specify a list of impairments that may qualify a student and requires a substantial limitation to a major life activity, which may or may not be learning. In addition, most services (typically accommodations) that students receive in Section 504 are provided within the classroom by the classroom teacher. Section 504 procedures, paperwork and parental rights are also very different than in special education. However, contrary to popular misconception, Section 504 is not “special education light” or a consolation to students who are not eligible for special education.