504 Program Referral, Evaluation, and Eligibility

  • Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act prohibits discrimination against handicapped persons, including, among others, both students and staff members, by school districts receiving federal financial assistance. Included in the U.S. Department of Education regulations for Section 504 is the requirement that handicapped students be provided with free appropriate public education (FAPE). These regulations require identification, evaluation, the provision of appropriate services, and procedural safeguards.

    With respect to most handicapped students, many aspects of the Section 504 regulation concerning FAPE parallel the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (formerly the Education of All Handicapped Children Act). However, in some other respects the requirements of the laws are different.

    The IDEA defines as eligible only students who have certain specified types of impairments and who, because of one of those conditions, need special education. Section 504, on the other hand, protects all handicapped students, defined as those having any physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Section 504 covers all students who meet this definition, even if they do not fall within the IDEA-enumerated categories and even if they do not need to be in a special education program.

    If a district has reason to believe that, because of a handicap as defined under Section 504, a student needs either special education or related services in the regular setting in order to participate in the school program, the district must evaluate the student; if the student is determined to be handicapped under Section 504, the district must develop and implement a plan for the delivery of services.

    What is required for the Section 504 evaluation and placement process is determined by the type of handicap believed to be present, and the type of services the student may need. The evaluation must be sufficient to accurately and completely assess the nature and extent of the handicap, and the recommended services.

    Under Section 504, the parents or guardian must be provided with notice of actions affecting the identification, evaluation, or placement of the student and are entitled to an impartial hearing if they disagree with district decisions in these areas.

    Students who have physical or mental conditions that limit their ability to participate in the education program are entitled to rights under Section 504 even though they may not fall into IDEA categories and may not be covered by that law.

  •  Identification and referral procedures 

    • Any student who needs or is believed to need services not available through existing programs in order to receive a free appropriate public education may be referred by a parent, teacher, or other certificated school employee to the Evaluation Team (ET). 

    • The ET will be composed of persons knowledgeable about the student, the student's history, the student's individual needs, the meaning of evaluation data, and the placement options.  

    • The ET will consider the referral and, based upon a review of the student's existing records, including academic, social, and behavioral records, make a decision as to whether a referral is appropriate.

    Evaluation process

    Evaluation of the student and formulation of an accommodation plan will be carried out according to the following procedures:   

    • The ET will review the nature of the student's disability and the impact of the disability upon the student's education. This review will include consideration of any behaviors that interfere with regular participation of a student who otherwise meets the criteria (such as age) for participation in the educational program and/or activities. 

    • No final determination of whether the student will or will not be identified as a handicapped individual within the meaning of Section 504 will be made by the ET without first inviting the parent or guardian of the student to participate in a meeting concerning such determination. 

    • A final decision regarding identification will be made by the ET in writing, and the parents or guardian of the student shall be notified of the procedural safeguards available to them, including the right to an impartial hearing and review.