What is the Eligibility Determination Process?
The decision to qualify a student for §504 services is made by a multidisciplinary team of people. This team includes persons knowledgeable about the student, the meaning of evaluation data, and educational accommodations and interventions. This typically includes persons such as the student’s teacher, school psychologist, guidance counselor, school nurse, and school administrator. If necessary, other professionals may be invited. The family may also invite any relevant outside person(s).
In addition to the information provided by the parents, the following information must be reviewed at the meeting:
• Standardized achievement tests
• Medical information including hearing, vision, medications, and any relevant
• Academic grades and transcripts
• Primary language (home and student)
• Discipline records
• School history
• Teacher reports/observations
Evaluations under Section 504 are not limited to formal evaluation instruments. Because the disabilities that may fall under Section 504 are broader than the specific disabilities listed in IDEA, evaluative information for a student may come from a number of sources, including
aptitude and achievement tests, teacher recommendations, the student’s physical condition (as attested to by the student’s physician), the student’s social or cultural background, or the student’s adaptive behavior. Section 504’s implementing regulations note that any evaluation of a student must consider all significant factors relating to the student’s learning process, including adaptive behavior. Thus, evaluations must be based on the type of disability suspected and the kind of services needed. In some cases, the evaluation is done by the §504 Multidisciplinary Team. The team can look at existing evaluation data, review school records, obtain observation data, evaluate effectiveness of educational interventions over time, determine eligibility under §504, and recommend programming within general education.
After reviewing the relevant information, the team will determine whether the student is a student with a disability that significantly impacts a major life activity. In order to be eligible to receive legal protections under §504, the student’s ability to perform major life activities, including, but not limited to, learning or behaving appropriately, must be substantially limited and the definition of “substantially limited” must be more broadly construed and generally applied than “severely restricted.” The purpose of §504, as stated by Congress, is to provide “broad coverage of individuals under this Act, to the maximum extent permitted by the terms of this Act.” Notwithstanding, the fact that a student has a diagnosed physical or mental impairment does not automatically mean s/he will qualify for an accommodation plan under §504.
Educational need is defined as a serious academic deficit and/or a serious behavior problem resulting from the child’s disability (and not from other causes); or any other physical or mental impairment which seriously affects the student’s opportunity to benefit from educational services.
If the team determines that the student is eligible for 504 protections, the team will develop a Section 504 plan.