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Analysis Finds Students with Disabilities Served under
Section 504 Overwhelmingly White, Disproportionately Male

 

August 2015

An analysis done by The Advocacy Institute reveals that students with disabilities served solely under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) are overwhelmingly White and disproportionately male.

Using publicly available data from the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) data base  (representing approximately 16,500 school districts, 96,500 schools and 49 million students) the analysis compared the distribution of the overall student enrollment and students served solely under Section 504 by seven race and ethnicity categories in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Get The Advocacy Institute complete 504 analysis (PDF, 1 pg.).

Nationwide, students served solely under Section 504 represent 1.5 percent of overall student enrollment.

Males are more frequently served than are girls (see Table 1). This gender breakdown doesn't vary significantly across states. Gender breakdown by state available here (PDF, 1 pg.).

TABLE 1

NATIONALLY
Male
Female
Total Student Enrollment
51.4%
48.6%
504 Students
62.3%
37.7%

Table 2 shows the percent by race/ethnicity of the total student enrollment and students served under Section 504 nationally.

TABLE 2

NATIONALLY
American Indian or Alaska Native
Asian
Hispanic or Latino of any race
Black or African American
White
Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander
Two or more races
Total Student Enrollment
1.2%
4.7%
23.6%
15.9%
51.7%
0.4%
2.6%
504 Students
1.8%
1.6%
15.9%
13.8%
65.0%
0.3%
2.5%

However, the analysis finds significant variation across states in the percentage of students being served under Section 504 as well as persistent over-representation of White students and under-representation of Hispanic or Latino students.

Major findings include:

  • Percentage of overall enrollment served under Section 504 varies from a high of 4.8 percent (New Hampshire) to a low of .4 percent (New Mexico and Wisconsin);
  • White students are over-represented among students with disabilities served solely under Section 504 in almost every state in the nation (49 of 51). The only exceptions are Louisiana and Mississippi.
  • Significant over-representation of White students exists in several states,
    • Georgia - 44% White enrollment vs. 61% White 504 students,
    • District of Columbia - 8% White enrollment vs. 15% White 504 students,
    • Massachusetts - 66% White enrollment vs. 80% White 504 students,
    • Nevada - 37% White enrollment vs. 60% White 504 students,
    • New York - 48% White enrollment vs. 76% White 504 students,
    • Rhode Island - 62% White enrollment vs. 84% White 504 students,
    • South Carolina - 53% White enrollment vs. 72% White 504 students.
  • Significant under-representation of Hispanic or Latino students exists in many states. Among states with the largest Hispanic/Latino student population, these include
    • Arizona - 42% Hispanic enrollment vs. 22% Hispanic 504 students,
    • California - 52% Hispanic enrollment vs. 29% Hispanic 504 students,
    • Nevada - 40% Hispanic enrollment vs. 18% Hispanic 504 students,
    • Texas - 51% Hispanic enrollment vs. 41% Hispanic 504 students.

Conversations regarding race and ethnicity are generally focused on the over-representation of minority students in special education (those students eligible under the IDEA).

Now, for the first time, the 2012 CRDC - the first to include data from every public school in the nation on Section 504 students - provides a deep look at students served solely under Section 504.

Students served under Section 504 can have a variety of disabling conditions. A few examples of impairments that can be disabilities are blindness, deafness, orthopedic impairments, autism, learning disabilities, Attention-Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), diabetes, food allergies, HIV and AIDS, and depression.

The CRDC database doesn't provide details on the disabling conditions of students served under Section 504. So, we are left to rely on independent studies and surveys for such information. A 2003 survey conducted by researchers Rachel Holler and Perry Zirkel found that the most common impairment among 504 students was Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The second most common impairment was diabetes.

If ADHD remains the most common impairment among 504 students, then information on this disorder could help explain the disproportionate number of males being served. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • Approximately 11% of children 4-17 years of age (6.4 million) have been diagnosed with ADHD as of 2011 (state-based prevalence rates are available here);
  • Boys (13.2%) were more likely than girls (5.6%) to have ever been diagnosed with ADHD.

CDC data also indicates that ADHD is more common in non-Hispanic White and African-American children than in Hispanic children.

  • White (non Hispanic): 4.1 million children have ADHD (8.7%)
  • Black or African American: 904,000 children have ADHD (9.8%)
  • Hispanic or Latino: 659,000 children have ADHD (5%)

However, this variance would not appear to support the significant under-representation of Hispanic or Latino students found in the state level 504 data.

Lastly, there are the arguments that have been raised over the years about "upper-income game players" - parents seeking a diagnosis that will entitle their youngster to additional time to take the SAT. For these parents, as the Los Angeles Times reported, “Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act has emerged as the legal vehicle of choice.”

It is important for states to examine their respective data on the race/ethnicity of Section 504 students and identify any policies and procedures that may be standing in the way of proper identification of minority students. Identification is important for both school success and access to accommodations in post-secondary settings. For example, a 504 plan can ensure student access to test accommodations on high stakes tests according to guidance issued by the U.S. Dept. of Justice in September 2015.

Compliance with Section 504 as Amended by the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act

State and district policies regarding Section 504 should reflect the changes made by the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) which broadened the potential class of persons with disabilities protected by Section 504. According to disability law expert Perry Zirkel, "Many school districts have not adjusted their eligibility determination procedures and practices to conform to the ADAAA ..." Zirkel lays out the top five Section 504 errors made by districts in this article for the Education Law Association.

Sue Gamm, a former attorney with the Office for Civil Rights, now a consultant with the Public Consulting Group, agrees with Zirkel, telling The Advocacy Institute that “Today, years after the ADAAA's passage, many districts still haven't adopted its changes.” Gamm also thinks that if districts seriously reviewed their health plans per current Section 504 criteria, the number of 504 plans would increase significantly since in many cases, students with disabilities who have health plans now meet the criteria for 504.

Compliance with Section 504 is handled by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Dept. of Education.

The following resources provide further information on Section 504:

 
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