Office For Civil Rights

Office for Civil Rights

How do Section 504 and Title II differ?

The main difference between the two laws is that one applies to the recipients of grants from the federal government (Section 504) and the other applies only to public entities (Title II). A school or college may be both a recipient of Federal funds from the U.S. Department of Education and also a public entity. In such cases, the institution is covered by both laws.

Are all school districts, colleges, and universities covered by these laws?

Virtually all public school districts are covered by Section 504 because they receive some federal financial assistance. Public colleges and universities generally receive federal financial assistance and most private colleges and universities receive such assistance. There are some private colleges that do not receive any federal assistance, and Section 504 does not apply to them. Title II applies only to public institutions.

Are all programs in a school or college covered if it receives federal financial assistance?

Generally, all programs in a school or college are covered if the school or college receives federal financial assistance or is a public entity.

Do these laws cover just students?

No. The laws protect all participants in the program from discrimination, including parents, students, and employees.

Do these laws cover just education programs?

No. They cover all programs of a school or college, including academics, extracurricular, and athletics. Also, the laws apply to the activities of a school or college that occur off campus.

Do all buildings have to be made physically accessible?

No, not necessarily. While buildings constructed after the Section 504 regulation was issued (that is, those built since 1977) must be fully accessible, older buildings do not have to be made fully accessible. For older buildings, the law requires that the program or activity be made accessible. A common way that is done is to relocate the program to another building that is accessible.

What types of adjustments are required for students with disabilities in colleges and universities?

Colleges and universities are required to provide students with appropriate academic adjustments and auxiliary aids and services that are necessary to afford an individual with a disability an equal opportunity to participate in the school's program. Examples of auxiliary aids that may be required are taped texts, note-takers, interpreters, readers, and accessible seating. Colleges and universities are not required to supply students with attendants, individually prescribed devices such as hearing aids and wheelchairs, readers for personal use or study, or other devices or services of a personal nature.

Does OCR enforce laws that prohibit harassment of students or others because of a disability?

Yes. Both Section 504 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act make it unlawful to harass people in covered entities because of their disabilities. OCR and the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services have jointly issued guidance to school districts regarding harassment based on disability.

The United States Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights

The mission of the Office for Civil Rights is to ensure equal access to education and to promote educational excellence throughout the nation through vigorous enforcement of civil rights. The Office for Civil Rights serves student populations facing discrimination and the advocates and institutions promoting systemic solutions to civil rights problems.

OCR enforces several Federal civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination in programs or activities that receive Federal financial assistance from the Department of Education. These laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin, sex, disability, and on basis of age. These laws extend to all state education agencies, elementary and secondary school systems, colleges and universities, vocational schools, proprietary schools, state vocational rehabilitation agencies, libraries, and museums that receive U.S. Department of Education funds. OCR also has responsibilities under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (prohibiting disability discrimination by public entities, whether or not they receive federal financial assistance).

These civil rights laws enforced by OCR extends to all State education agencies, elementary and secondary school systems, colleges and universities, vocational schools, proprietary schools, State vocational rehabilitation agencies, libraries, and museums that receive Federal financial assistance from ED. Programs or activities that receive ED funds must provide aids, benefits, or services in a nondiscriminatory manner. Such aids, benefits, or services may include, but are not limited to: admissions, recruitment, financial aid, academic programs, student treatment and services, counseling and guidance, discipline, classroom assignment, grading, vocational education, recreation, physical education, athletics, housing, and employment.

How to File a Complaint with the Office for Civil Rights

What To Do

Anyone wishing to file a formal complaint with OCR should submit in writing the following information in a letter or on the Discrimination Complaint Form available from OCR enforcement offices (see listing):

  • Your name and address (a telephone number where you may be reached during business hours is helpful, but not required);
  • A general description of the person(s) or class of persons injured by the alleged discriminatory act(s) (names of the injured person(s) are not required);
  • The name and location of the institution that committed the alleged discriminatory act(s); and
  • A description of the alleged discriminatory act(s) in sufficient detail to enable OCR to understand what occurred, when it occurred, and the basis for the alleged discrimination (race, color, national origin, sex, disability, age, or the Boy Scouts of America Equal Access Act).

How To File An Online Complaint

OCR encourages students and parents, representatives of education institutions, and other OCR customers to use e-mail or fax to communicate with OCR, whenever possible. Also complainants may file a complaint with OCR, online, at the following web site: For those without current e-mail accounts, Internet access may be freely available from your local public library, and free e-mail accounts are available from several large providers. A recipient may not retaliate against any person who has made a complaint, testified, assisted, or participated in any manner in an investigation or proceeding under the laws listed above.

Who Can File

Anyone who believes that an educational institution that receives Federal financial assistance has discriminated against someone on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, or age, or who believes that public elementary or secondary school, or State or local education agency has violated the Boy Scouts of America Equal Access Act, may file a complaint. The person or organization filing the complaint need not be a victim of the alleged discrimination, but may complain on behalf of another person or group.


A complaint must be filed within 180 calendar days of the date of the alleged discrimination, unless the time for filing is extended by OCR for good cause.

Institutional Grievance Procedures

Prior to filing a complaint with OCR against an institution, a potential complainant may want to find out about the institution's grievance process and use that process to have the complaint resolved. A complainant is not required by law to use the institutional grievance procedure before filing a complaint with OCR. If a complainant uses an institutional grievance process and also chooses to file the complaint with OCR, the complaint must be filed with OCR within 60 days after the last act of the institutional grievance process.

Where To Write

Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, West Virginia
Office for Civil Rights, Philadelphia Office
U.S. Department of Education
Wanamaker Building
100 Penn Square East, Suite 515
Philadelphia, PA 19107 215-656-8541
FAX# 215-656-8605; TDD 215-656-8604