The 504 Referral Process
Who can refer a learner for consideration for evaluation under Section 504?
Anyone can refer a learner for evaluation under Section 504. However, although anyone can make a referral, the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) stated in a staff memorandum that "the school district must also have reason to believe that the learner is in need of services under Section 504 due to a disability" (OCR Memorandum, April 29, 2993). Therefore, a school district does not have to refer or evaluate a learner under Section 504 solely upon parental request. The important piece of a referral is whether the school suspects that the learner is suffering from a mental or physical impairement that substantially limits a major life activity and is in need of either regular education with supplementary services or special education and related services [Letter to Mentink, 19 IDELR 1127 (OCR) 1993]. If a parent requests a referral for evaluation, and the school district does not evaluate, the school district must provide the parent with notice of their procedural rights under Section 504.
What information is used in doing an evaluation under Section 504?
Under Section 504, no formalized testing is required. Schools must consider a variety of sources. A single source of information (such as a doctor’s report/diagnosis) will not be the only information considered. Schools must be able to assure that all information submitted is documented and considered. The 504 Committee should look at grades over the past several years, teacher’s reports, information from parents or other agencies, state assessment scores or other school administered tests, observations, discipline reports, attendance records, and health records.
Who decides whether a learner is qualified and eligible for services under Section 504?
According to the federal regulations: “…placement decisions are to be made by a group of persons who are knowledgeable about the child, the meaning of the evaluation data, placement options, least restrictive environment requirements...” [34 C.F.R. §104.35(c)(3)]. This group of knowledgeable persons is referred to as the Section 504 Committee.
Unlike Special Education, the federal regulations for Section 504 do not require or even mention that parents are to be a part of the decision-making committee. The decision to include parents in the decision-making committee is a determination that is made by each school district. Parents are encouraged to contribute any information that they may have (e.g., doctor’s reports, private evaluations, etc.) that would be helpful to the Section 504 committee in making their determination of what the learner may need.
Can a learner be placed under Section 504 without the parents' knowledge?
No. Parents must always be given notice before their learner is evaluated and/or placed under Section 504 (34 C.F.R. §104.36). Parents must also be given a copy of their learner’s Section 504 student services plan if the committee determines that the learner is eligible under Section 504.
How often is a learner re-evaluated?
While there are no specific regulations regarding this issue, federal regulation requires that learners must be re-evaluated at least every three years or whenever there is going to be a significant change in placement. The campus 504 committee should review each learner’s plan annually to make sure his or her student services plan is appropriate based on their individual needs.