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The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) recently released important guidance about when four common medical conditions may require accommodations under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Section 504 protects the rights of individuals with disabilities in programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance including public school districts, public colleges and universities and any private schools or colleges that accept federal funds. These resources serve as important reminders of the actions a school should take when it learns that a student has been diagnosed with one of these medical conditions: asthma, diabetes, food allergies, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

In such cases, schools need to conduct a review to determine if the student should be identified as a student with a disability subject to the protections of Section 504. Schools are reminded that a school health care plan is not a replacement for the required analysis to determine whether the student also qualifies for the civil rights protections afforded by Section 504

Each of the four guidance documents provides information about the medical condition and how it might affect a substantial life activity.  Although a medical condition must “substantially limit” one or more of a student’s major life activities for that student to be considered a student with a disability for purposes of Section 504, this condition is not limited to the major life activity of learning.

Some other key takeaways from this guidance include:

  • A student’s medical condition may affect a student in many ways that might require accommodations including (1) absences due to medical appointments; (2) an ongoing sense of fear or stress about their medical condition; and (3) feelings of isolation from peers.
  • A student with a medical disability needs to be protected from disability-based harassment even if they require no other accommodations.  
  • Schools should document that they have conducted a Section 504 review and are following the procedures that they have developed to ensure their compliance with Section 504.