Pursuant to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the District has a duty to identify, refer, evaluate and if eligible, provide a free, appropriate public education to disabled students.
Child-Find - any student who needs or is believed to need §504 services must be “identified” by the school district for referral to §504 committee for evaluation.
What is Section 504?
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability. Unlike Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) that governs special education, Section 504 is not an education, service, or funding statue. The purpose of Section 504 is to ensure that individuals with disabilities are given the same opportunity to participate in programs and activities as are their nondisabled peers.
Who is eligible under Section 504?
Students may qualify for protection under Section 504 if they have a mental or physical impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. A label, disability, or diagnosis, alone, does not make a student eligible under Section 504. The disability must substantially limit the student’s performance as compared to the performance of the average student in the general population.
Does Section 504 require an evaluation to determine eligibility?
Yes. However, evaluation does not necessarily mean a test or formal psychological evaluation. It refers to the gathering of data and/or information from a variety of sources so that the Section 504 committee may make the required determinations. Depending on the suspected disability, common sources of evaluation data are grades, attendance records, health information, standardized test scores, teacher comments, observations, medical records, discipline referrals, etc. The committee will consider any data provided by the parent, including medical documentation and private evaluations.
A 504 Plan
This is a written document outlining specific accommodations and/or related services that are necessary for the student to access all programs and facilities. This may include extracurricular activities as well. All accommodations that are approved by the Section 504 committee must be necessary due to the specific substantial limitations caused by the student’s documented disability. Accommodations are intended to level the playing field and not to give an unfair advantage.
Provide to the campus Section 504 Coordinator any available data that you have supporting the suspected disability.
Every campus has one or more individuals who are designated as the Section 504 Coordinator.
The following are the designated Section 504 Coordinators according to level:
- ES - Vice Principals
- MS - Assistant Principals and Academic Dean
- HS - Campus Testing Coordinator/ Section 504 Coordinator
You will want to reach out to the campus Section 504 coordinator to address your concerns. A Section 504 evaluation meeting will be held if any changes need to be made to the plan. Decisions to make changes in a plan are driven by data, committee discussion, and anecdotal information from parents and teachers.
For those students who are having difficulty in the regular classroom, all school districts and open enrollment charter schools must consider tutorial, compensatory, and other academic or behavior support services that are available to all students, including a process based on Response to Intervention (RtI). The implementation of RtI has the potential to have a positive impact on the ability of districts and charter schools to meet the needs of all struggling students.
If a student is experiencing learning difficulties, his or her parent may contact the individual(s) listed below to learn about the school’s overall general education referral or screening system for support services. This system links students to a variety of support options, including making a referral for a special education evaluation or for a Section 504 evaluation to determine if the student needs specific aids, accommodations, or services. A parent may request an evaluation for special education or Section 504 services at any time.
Special Education Referrals
If a parent makes a written request for an initial evaluation for special education services to the director of special education services or an administrative employee of the school district or open enrollment charter school, the district or charter school must respond no later than 15 school days after receiving the request. At that time, the district or charter school must give the parent a prior written notice of whether it agrees to or refuses to evaluate the student, along with a copy of the Notice of Procedural Safeguards. If the school district or charter school agrees to evaluate the student, it must also give the parent the opportunity to give written consent for the evaluation.
Please note that a request for a special education evaluation may be made verbally and does not need to be in writing. Districts and charter schools must still comply with all federal prior written notice and procedural safeguard requirements and the requirements for identifying, locating, and evaluating children who are suspected of being a child with a disability and in need of special education. However, a verbal request does not require the district or charter school to respond within the 15-school-day timeline.
If the district or charter school decides to evaluate the student, it must complete the student’s initial evaluation and evaluation report no later than 45 school days from the day it receives a parent’s written consent to evaluate the student. However, if the student is absent from school during the evaluation period for three or more school days, the evaluation period will be extended by the number of school days equal to the number of school days that the student is absent.
There is an exception to the 45-school-day timeline. If a district or charter school receives a parent’s consent for the initial evaluation at least 35 but less than 45 school days before the last instructional day of the school year, it must complete the written report and provide a copy of the report to the parent by June 30 of that year. However, if the student is absent from school for three or more days during the evaluation period, the June 30th due date no longer applies. Instead, the general timeline of 45 school days plus extensions for absences of three or more days will apply.
Upon completing the evaluation, the district or charter school must give the parent a copy of the evaluation report at no cost.
Additional information regarding special education is available from the district or charter school in a companion document titled Parent’s Guide to the Admission, Review, and Dismissal Process.
THE SECTION 504 PROCESS IN NISD:
Parents/Guardians are invited to refer their child to the 504 process if they believe that their student has a physical or mental impairment that could make their child eligible for Section 504 protections. Each school has a Section 504 coordinator who will facilitate the process. Other individuals may also make referrals, such as health care professionals, teachers, and other school staff members.
Once the referral has been received by the school, the Section 504 coordinator will ask the parent/ guardian to provide medical documentation or additional information and invite the parent/guardian to attend a Section 504 eligibility determination meeting. At the meeting, the committee will review all available information and determine whether or not the student is eligible for Section 504.
3. Plan Development:
If the student is determined to be eligible, then the Section 504 committee will write a Section 504 plan for the student, describing the accommodations and services that the student needs in order to access the general education curriculum at school.
The Section 504 committee will meet annually to review the student’s Section 504 plan and to determine whether any changes are needed. Parents/guardians can also request a meeting if they think that the Section 504 Plan needs to be reviewed or updated. In addition to reviewing the student’s Section 504 plan each year, the Section 504 committee may also review the student’s eligibility for Section 504 every three years.
POINTS OF CONTACT
Special Education Services
Dr. Coleman Heckman (210) 397-3508
Dr. Coleman Heckman is the designated point of contact regarding options for a student experiencing learning difficulties or regarding a referral for evaluation for special education services.
Section 504 Referrals
Anna Draker (210) 397-8810
Anna Draker is the designated point of contact regarding options for a student experiencing learning difficulties or regarding a referral for evaluation for Section 504 services.
Each school district or charter school must have standards and procedures in place for the evaluation and placement of students in the district’s or charter school’s Section 504 program. Districts and charter schools must also implement a system of procedural safeguards that includes notice, an opportunity for a parent or guardian to examine relevant records, an impartial hearing with an opportunity for participation by the parent or guardian and representation by counsel, and a review procedure.