Initial Evaluation and Eligibility
Initial Evaluation After Referral
The Section 504/I&RS team completes the Section 504 Eligibility form during the initial evaluation meeting. It should be noted that parents must provide written consent prior to a Section 504/I&RS Team beginning any evaluation. If consent is granted, the team may proceed. The parent’s consent is documented on the Section 504 Section 504 Informed Consent for Initial Evaluation or Reevaluation Evaluation form. If consent is refused, then the Section 504/I&RS Team must document in the narrative section of the Section 504 Eligibility form that the parent refused to provide consent for the initial eligibility determination. In such instances, the Section 504 process is terminated.
Once parental consent is provided, the process begins with a review of all available data from a variety of sources, including those listed below, as appropriate for the individual student:
- Psychological Evaluation
- Action Plan
- Parental information
- State test results
- Observation data
- Physician’s report
- Home and health history
- Scholastic record
- Teacher input
- Benchmark assessments
- Report cards
- Attendance data
- Student’s languages
- Curriculum assessments
- Work samples
- Disciplinary history
- Mitigating measures
The information considered during the Section 504/I&RS Team meeting is entered on the Section 504 Eligibility form.
Following this review, the team will determine if additional data are needed, including formal assessments, before reaching a thoughtful eligibility determination. If the parent provides additional information another meeting must be scheduled within a reasonable time frame.
If, during the evaluation process, the Section 504/I&RS Team determines it has sufficient data to proceed with an eligibility determination and does not recommend formal assessments, the Section 504/I&RS Team documents in detail why the team did not recommend formal assessments, what data they reviewed, and why the Section 504/I&RS Team felt that existing evaluation data alone was sufficient for an eligibility determination.
Determining Whether or Not the Student is a “Student With a Disability” Under Section 504
Eligibility must be based on multiple data points from a variety of sources that support the decision. A two-part inquiry determines this process. Both of the following criteria must be met before a student is eligible for a Section 504 Plan:
- Does the student have a physical or mental impairment?
- Does the physical or mental impairment “substantially limit” a major life activity?
Determining Whether the Student Has a Physical or Mental Impairment
Section 504 defines a “physical or mental impairment” as “any physiological disorder or condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or anatomical loss affecting one or more of the following body systems: neurological; musculoskeletal; special sense organs; respiratory, including speech organs; cardiovascular; reproductive, digestive, genito-urinary; hemic and lymphatic; skin; and endocrine; or any mental or psychological disorder such as intellectual disability, organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness, and specific learning disabilities.” It should be noted that this is not an exhaustive list. The Section 504/I&RS Team records the physical or mental impairment on the Section 504 Eligibility form.
Determining Whether A Major Life Activity Is Affected by the Identified Impairment
Section 504 defines “major life activities” as “functions such as caring for one’s self, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, working, standing, lifting, bending, reading, concentrating, thinking, and communicating.” It should be noted that this is not an exhaustive list. While learning is the primary emphasis in schools, a student does not need to be substantially limited in the major life activity of learning to be eligible under Section 504. A student may have a disability that in no way affects his or her ability to learn, yet the student may need extra assistance of some kind to access public education programs and activities. The Section 504/I&RS Team considers available documentation concerning the implications for the student’s impairment and completes the Section 504 Eligibility form in determining which major life activity (ies) is affected by the impairment.
Determining Whether the Physical or Mental Impairment Substantially Limits a Major Life Activity
A major life activity is substantially limited if “an individual who is limited in performing a major life activity (condition, manner, or duration) compared to a typical student in the general population” (BOE Policy 2418 Rehabilitation Act of 1973). In analyzing whether a major life activity is substantially limited, a comparative standard can provide guidance. Teams should consider if the student’s major life activity is restricted as to the conditions, manner, or duration with which they can be performed in comparison to a non-disabled peer of the same age or grade level in the general population.
It is important to note that an impairment in and of itself is not a disability; the impairment must substantially limit one or more major life activities in order to be considered a disability under Section 504. A diagnosis from a physician is only one part of the eligibility determination. A physician can diagnose the physical or mental impairment; however, the Section 504/I&RS Team makes the determination as to whether or not the impairment meets the eligibility standard of substantial limitation.
The Section 504/I&RS Team makes an educated estimate without the effects of mitigating measures, such as medication; medical supplies, equipment or appliances; low-vision devices (which do not include ordinary eyeglasses or contact lenses); prosthetics (including limbs and devices); hearing aids and cochlear implants or other implantable hearing devices; mobility devices; oxygen therapy equipment and supplies; use of assistive technology; reasonable accommodations or auxiliary aids or services; and learned behavioral or adaptive neurological modifications. Similarly, for impairments that are episodic or in remission, make the determination for the time they are active.
In preparation for a Section 504/&RS initial eligibility determination meeting, the student’s teachers shall complete the Teacher Input for an Initial Section 504 Referral form. This information will assist the Section 504/I&RS Team in determining the number on the following scale that indicates the degree to which the identified impairment limits the identified major life activity.
5 - Extremely
4 - Substantially
3 - Moderately
2 - Mildly
1 - Negligibly
If the Section 504/I&RS Team determines the limitation is less than substantial, the student is not eligible for Section 504 protections.
The Section 504 eligibility decision of the Section 504/I&RS Team is documented on the Section 504 Eligibility form by selecting one of the available conclusions listed on the form, in the “Initial Eligibility Decision” section.
Initial Eligibility Decision
The Student is not a student with a disability:
The student is not a student with a disability because there is no physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity.
The Student is a student with a disability:
The student is a student with a disability because there is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity, and services are needed in order that the student’s needs are met as adequately as those of nondisabled peers. A Section 504 Plan will be developed.
Mitigating Measures - The student is a student with a disability but is not in need of a Section 504 Plan because the student’s educational needs are met as adequately as those of nondisabled peers based upon the positive effect(s) of mitigating measures currently in use. The need for a Section 504 Plan will be addressed again should the positive effect(s) of mitigating measures currently in use no longer exist. While the student currently is not in need of a Section 504 Plan, it is understood that Section 504’s antidiscrimination provisions will still protect the student, and the school cannot discriminate against the student on the basis of disability.
Concluding the Section 504 Initial Evaluation and Eligibility Meeting
Ensure the parent was provided with a copy of his or her parental rights, Notice of Procedural Safeguards Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and check the box on the form indicating the provision of the parental rights document.
If a follow up meeting for either initial eligibility determination or the development of a Section 504 Plan is required, determine the date of the next meeting.
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders (ADHD): When considering whether or not a student has attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, a school psychologist, the qualified examiner for the determination of ADHD, must be a member of the Section 504/I&RS Team.
- Temporary Impairments: Under Section 504, the proper eligibility inquiry is not whether a disability is temporary or permanent. The question for the Section 504/I&RS Team is whether the student’s temporary physical or mental impairment is significant enough to be a disability. This decision is a case-by-case determination, taking into account either the duration (or expected duration) of the impairment and the extent to which the impairment actually limits a major life activity of the affected student. If the Section 504/I&RS Team determines that the impairment substantially limits a major life activity, the Section 504/I&RS Team will develop a Section 504 Plan for the anticipated duration of the impairment. Note the expected recovery date on the student’s Section 504 Plan is based on feedback from a physician. The Section 504/I&RS Team will meet periodically and close to the expected recovery due date, but not later than six months from the eligibility determination, to review the need for the specific accommodations. The Section 504/I&RS Team should seek consent from the parent for the school nurse to speak with the treating medical provider to discuss the student’s recovery. The school psychologist should seek consent to speak with providers related to the temporary mental impairment during the period of recovery. Once the student has recovered to the point that the temporary disability is no longer substantially limiting a major life activity, the Section 504 Plan is discontinued. The decision to discontinue the Section 504 Plan is made by the Section 504/I&RS Team.
- Highly Able Students: Students performing above grade level or enrolled in Advanced Placement or Honors level classes are not automatically precluded from Section 504 eligibility. Highly able students may have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity other than learning. Just like other students with disabilities, highly able students with disabilities may need accommodations to succeed in class. If a student with a disability is receiving accommodations in non-honors courses, there is a good possibility that the student will need those accommodations in all of his or her classes. Any accommodations on a Section 504 Plan for such students should “level the playing field,” not provide a means by which the student is eligible for higher-level courses, improve average grades, raise high-stakes test scores, or reduce homework responsibilities. Appropriate accommodations do not affect the integrity of the class or coursework.
- Students Who “Have a Record of a Disability” or Are “Regarded As” Having a Disability: NHRHS is not required to develop a Section 504 Plan for students who either “have a record of disability” or who are “regarded as having a disability.” Unless a student actually has an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity, the mere fact that a student has a “record of” or is “regarded as” disabled is insufficient, in itself, to trigger those Section 504 protections that require the provision of a free appropriate public education (FAPE). Students who either “have a record of disability” or who are “regarded as having a disability” are protected from discrimination under Section 504.