Toolbox Tuesday: What about 504?

Every time I do a Toolbox training, someone asks about how Section 504 fits in. Do the same rules apply? Mostly they do. There are a few distinctions between the IDEA regulations on discipline and the standards for students served under Section 504, but for the most part, the same timelines, standards and requirements apply.

This is reinforced by the Q and A issued by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights on July 19th. Special education directors and 504 coordinators should study this document. When they do they will see how parallel the requirements are for IDEA and 504.

However, this Q and A clarified one confusing section of the 504 regulations. Section 34 CFR 104.35(a) requires “an evaluation” of the student prior to any “significant change in placement.” When I see the word “evaluation” my first thought is “call the diagnostician.” An evaluation usually involves some testing or observation by a qualified professional. Is the school required to do that prior to moving a student to a different placement?

Let’s think about that in the context of student discipline. Suppose the student has committed an offense that would normally call for removal to the DAEP. That’s a change of placement. If the student is served through a 504 plan, we know that we need to convene a 504 Team meeting to make a manifestation determination review (MDR). But do we also need to conduct a new evaluation of some sort?

No. You just need to do a manifestation determination. Here’s the part of the Q and A that clarifies this point:

In the context of a significant change of placement due to a proposed disciplinary removal, the purpose of the evaluation (referred to in this guidance as a manifestation determination) is to decide whether the behavior for which discipline is proposed is based on the student’s disability, and, if so whether changes in the student’s placement are required to ensure the student receives FAPE. (Emphasis added).

In other words, the MDR is the evaluation. Formal testing is not required.


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Tomorrow: A case from the Panhandle