Once the evaluation is completed the team meets to determine eligibility. The evaluations may determine that your child does have a disability, but the disability may not adversely affect their educational performance and require special education. Your child’s disability may still affect their learning, however, and qualify them for services and support under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1974. Section 504 is a civil rights law that provides services to a person of any age who:
- has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more of the individual’s major life activities;
- has a record of such an impairment; or
- is regarded as having such an impairment.
Major life functions include walking, talking, taking care of one’s self, working and learning. While some children may need significant support, including special education, your child may need small adjustments and strategies to regular education. Some examples are:
- extended time on tests and assignments
- preferential seating
- reduced homework or classwork
- structured learning environment(s);
- repeated or broken down instructions;
- use of verbal/visual aids;
- behavior management supports, strategies and/or plans;
- adjusted class schedules;
- verbal tests;
- use of assistive technology;
- modified textbooks or audio/video tape materials;
- consultation with special education staff;
- one-on-one tutor, aide or notetaker;
- additional class personnel; and
- a services coordinator to oversee program and modification
Once your child is found eligible for protection under Section 504, a plan to address their needs and services is developed. The plan has no specific name. It may be called a “504 Plan”, an “Accommodation Plan” or it they may use the format used in an Individualized Education Program (IEP). This documentation is to be developed by a planning group. A planning group consists of persons knowledgeable about your child, the meaning of the evaluation data and placement options. It is important for you to know that there is no requirement for parent participation in a 504 planning group or for your written approval of the plan like there is if your child qualifies for special education. However, many schools routinely involve parents in the 504 process as they would in special education.
A 504 plan can include related services, such as physical or occupational therapy, speech and language services and special transportation that are needed by your child in order for them to benefit from his/her education.
Once the documentation is complete, the planning group determines the student’s placement. The student is always educated in the least restrictive environment. That means that he/she would be taught in the regular classroom, unless they are unable to satisfactorily achieve in that environment, even with the use of aids and services. In that case, other locations, including alternate settings in the school, and private, even residential, programs may be used.