Washington Watch: AACC represents community colleges on Section 504

U.S. Education Department (Photo: AACC)

Editor’s note: This article comes from the American Association of Community Colleges’ office of government relations.

Forty-five years after publication of the regulations implementing Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the landmark disability civil rights law, the Department of Education (ED) has announced plans to gather public input on possible amendments to update those regulations, with a stated goal to “strengthen and protect the rights of students with disabilities.” Earlier this week, AACC Senior VP for Government Relations David Baime spoke on behalf of community colleges at a “Listening Session” sponsored by ED that featured higher education associations.

ED perspectives

In advance of the session, ED forwarded the following questions for discussion, which outline some of the Department’s current thinking in the area:

  1. Are there provisions of Section 504 regulations that experience shows are unclear or would benefit from further clarification?
  2. Are there provisions of Section 504 regulations that should be changed in a substantial way or repealed because as written they have not served to promote equal educational opportunity for people with disabilities?
  3. Are there areas not addressed in the Section 504 regulations, but that have emerged as impediments to equal educational opportunity for people with disabilities?
  4. What Section 504 regulations should not be changed because they have been particularly effective in protecting equal educational opportunity for students with disabilities?
  5. Do you have any additional information about the application of the Section 504 regulations to students, parents, and educators with disabilities that may be helpful to the Department as we consider updating the regulations?

ED is undertaking a deliberative process in considering regulatory revisions.  A proposed rule is not expected until 2023, with a final rule likely being published in 2024. 

Community college views

At the recent session, AACC made the following points:

  • Colleges are eager to make all programs fully accessible to all students. 
  • Community colleges are highly diverse and will adopt different approaches to accommodating students
  • Regulatory clarity concerning compliance is critical
  • Flexibility for campus to respond to individual circumstances is necessary
  • The growing digital learning environment presents a range of challenges for institutions in their efforts to reach all students in all circumstances.

AACC will continue to closely monitor regulatory developments in this area.  Colleges are encouraged to share their perspectives on Section 504 with AACC’s government relations team. 

About the Author

David Baime
David Baime is senior vice president for government relations at the American Association of Community Colleges.