Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act promotes the integration of students with disabilities into mainstream society by eliminating discrimination on the basis of handicap in a program or activity receiving federal financial assistance, such as the District. Section 504 compliments the IDEA in the field of education, and Section 504 federal regulations adopt the language of IDEA regarding FAPE. Indeed, the implementing regulations for Section 504 define “appropriate education” as “the provision of regular or special education and related aids and services that (i) are designed to meet the individual educational needs of the handicapped persons as adequately as the needs of non-handicapped persons are met…”
Districts often overlook this very important step in developing a Section 504 Plan. Rather, they will simply use a medical diagnosis or a single assessment to determine eligibility and develop a plan. However, when a court reviews a school district’s compliance with Section 504, a two-pronged analysis is used: (1) whether the District complied with the procedures set forth in the Act; and (2) whether the Section 504 Service Agreement developed through the Act’s procedures is reasonably calculated to enable the child to receive meaningful educational benefits.
Compliance with Section 504 must be based upon an appropriate and comprehensive evaluation which identifies the student’s complete educational needs. Comprehensive is the key word. If a District fails to comprehensively evaluate a student, it is in violation of Section 504. Under those circumstances, parents can and should pursue an Independent Educational Evaluation at the school’s expense and/or utilize their procedural safeguards such as mediation and due process.