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Section 504 Timelines

February 05, 20246 min read

“Parents should refer to their state and local Section 504 handbooks, as well as relevant written policies, rules, or laws for specific timelines and procedures in their district.”

Introduction:

Navigating Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is crucial for parents and educators. This federal law ensures that individuals with disabilities receive necessary support in programs and activities, including public schools, which receive federal financial assistance. This guide aims to clarify the timelines associated with Section 504, empowering advocates with the knowledge to ensure timely and appropriate accommodations for every child. Understanding these timelines is vital for enhancing a child’s educational experience and contributing to their success and well-being in school.

8 Reasons

Identification and Referral Process

The Section 504 journey typically begins with identification and referral. Although there is no specific timeline mandated by federal law, schools are generally expected to act promptly, typically within 30 calendar days. Once a child's need for Section 504 is formally communicated in writing to the principal and the child’s teacher, the school should start gathering relevant information, including academic records, teacher observations, and possibly medical information.

Evaluation Decision: Key Considerations

While parents do not have an absolute right to demand a Section 504 evaluation upon request, it is crucial for schools to consider conducting an evaluation if there is reason to believe the child may need special education or related services due to a disability. School districts could be in violation of Section 504 if they deny or unnecessarily delay this evaluation, especially when it would have been reasonable for a staff member to suspect that the child has a disability that requires special education or related services.

Best Practice Tip

Document all communications i n writing and take detailed notes during meetings. This not only tracks key points and decisions but also ensures that progress is monitored effectively and actions are timely. This documentation can be vital in ensuring that the school fulfills its obligation to evaluate when there are indications of a possible disability.

Evaluation and Eligibility Determination

It's very important for evaluations to be done in a timely manner. The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) often uses the IDEA's 60-day timeline or the specific rules of each state and school district as a standard to judge if a school is taking too long. Schools are advised to follow these guidelines to make sure they evaluate children in a timely manner, which helps avoid delays in giving the necessary help and accommodations. This timeframe might vary depending on the rules of each state or school district.

Timeliness in Evaluations: Since specific timelines can vary significantly depending on state or district, it's important for parents to seek out their state or district's Section 504 handbook or written policies for clear understanding.

Development of the 504 Plan

Once a child is found eligible, the school must develop a 504 Plan. Although there is no specific federally mandated timeline for this, it's usually expected to be completed promptly and reasonably, often within a few weeks of the eligibility determination.

Annual Review

While Section 504 requires that the 504 Plan be reviewed periodically, some schools opt to conduct these reviews at least annually, though this is not specifically mandated by the law.  However, it is often adopted to ensure that the plan remains effective and responsive to the child's evolving needs. Regular reviews allow for necessary adjustments to the plan based on the child’s progress and any changes in their needs or circumstances. 

Reevaluation

Periodic reevaluations are a vital component under Section 504. The frequency of these reevaluations can vary, as Section 504 does not set a standard timeframe. Practices range from conducting reevaluations every three years to less frequent intervals, depending on individual school policies and procedures.

Parents are encouraged to actively refer to their state and local Section 504 handbooks, as well as any relevant written policies, rules, or laws. This understanding is vital for comprehending the specific procedures and timelines for reevaluations in their district, ensuring awareness of their child’s rights and the school's obligations.

Key Tip - Reevaluation Before Significant Placement Changes

Section 504 mandates reevaluations before any significant changes in a child's educational placement. According to the Office for Civil Rights (OCR):

  • A significant change includes scenarios like an exclusion from the educational program for more than 10 consecutive school days.

  • A series of short-term exclusions (each of 10 school days or fewer) that total more than 10 school days and create a pattern of removal are also considered a significant change in placement.

  • Significant changes also encompass transferring a child from one type of program to another (for example, from a general education class to a special education class) or terminating or significantly reducing a related service.

In these instances, a mandatory reevaluation is required to ensure that the child's educational needs are appropriately met and that any disciplinary actions or changes in educational setting are consistent with the child's rights under Section 504. This guarantees that the child's current needs inform decisions about their education and support.

Conclusion

Navigating the timelines under Section 504 can be challenging, but understanding these policies, regulations, and laws can help a child receive appropriate accommodations and services promptly. Effective communication among parents, educators, and school officials is paramount in this advocacy process.

Key Reminder

While this guide provides a general framework, always consult your local school district for specific policies and procedures, as they can vary. If you have additional questions, please reach out to PASEN for assistance.

Q: What is the first step in the Section 504 process for a child with disabilities?

A: The first step is identification and referral, which typically begins within 30 calendar days after a child's need for Section 504 is formally communicated to the school.

Q: Can parents demand a Section 504 evaluation for their child?

A: Parents cannot demand an evaluation on request, but schools must consider it if there's reason to believe the child needs special education or related services due to a disability.

Q: How often should a 504 Plan be reviewed?

A: Section 504 requires that the 504 Plan be reviewed periodically. Some schools opt to review these plans at least annually, although it's not specifically mandated by law.

Q: What triggers a reevaluation under Section 504?

A: A reevaluation is mandated before any significant changes in a child's educational placement, such as suspensions exceeding 10 consecutive school days or significant changes in program type.

Q: Where can I find specific timelines and procedures for Section 504 in my district?

A: Parents should refer to their state and local Section 504 handbooks, as well as relevant written policies, rules, or laws for specific timelines and procedures in their district.


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Michelle Harris

Michelle is the founder of Parent Alliance for Students with Exceptional Needs. She is an author, trainer, and educational advocate.

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