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Fundamentally, Section 504 is a civil rights law passed by the Congress in 1973 to protect persons with disabilities from discrimination based on disability. Several federal Department of Education regulations specifically tell schools how to implement Section 504 requirements.

The main emphasis in the schools is equal educational opportunity, which is mainly accomplished by providing appropriate classroom accommodations to eligible students with disabilities that are not severe enough to qualify for special education, but which are substantially limiting their learning or other major life activities. Eligible students are afforded an equal opportunity to participate in school extracurricular and non-academic activities.