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(16.15) How should a school make a placement decision for my child who is eligible for services under Section 504?

(16.15) How should a school make a placement decision for my child who is eligible for services under Section 504?

The placement decision for a child who is eligible for services under Section 504 begins with an evaluation. [34 C.F.R. Sec. 104.35.] Once evaluations are conducted, the school should interpret the evaluation information and make a placement decision by:

  1. Drawing upon information from a variety of sources, including aptitude and achievement tests, teacher recommendations, physical condition, social or cultural background, and adaptive behavior;
  2. Establishing procedures to ensure that information obtained from all such sources is documented and carefully considered;
  3. Ensuring that the placement decision is made by a group of persons, including persons knowledgeable about the child, the meaning of the evaluation data, and the placement options;
  4. Ensuring that the placement decision is made in conformity with the mandate for least restrictive environment (LRE).
    [34 C.F.R. Sec. 104.35.]

The LRE mandate states that the school must educate or provide for the education of a student with a disability alongside students without  disabilities to the maximum extent appropriate to the needs of the student with a disability. The school’s first choice should be the “regular educational environment” unless it is demonstrated that the education of the student with a disability in this environment with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily. If a placement other than the regular environment is chosen, the school must take into account the proximity of the alternate setting to the child’s home. [34 C.F.R. Sec. 104.34.(a).] If the school operates a separate facility for students with disabilities, it must ensure that the facility and the services in that facility are comparable to the school’s other facilities and services. [34 C.F.R. 104.34.(c).] The LRE mandate applies equally to the school’s nonacademic and extracurricular services, activities and  programs.
[34 C.F.R. Sec. 104.34(b).]

Section 504 is not as specific as the IDEA regarding many aspects of placement of students with disabilities. However, OCR has found that the following may be provided under Section 504:

  1. The duty to have a continuum of alternative placement options. [Boston (MA) Renaissance Charter Sch., (OCR 1997)];
  2. Home instruction placement based on an individualized determination. [Forest Hill (MI) Pub. Schs., (OCR 2013)];
  3. Placement in general classroom with age-appropriate peers. [Edgefield County (SC) Sch. Dist., (OCR 1990).]