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Evaluations for Children Who Have Disabilities that Affect Them at School

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The July 19, 2022 guidance from the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) details important points about how students should be evaluated if it appears they may need accommodations at school for disabilities through 504 plans or Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). Here are some of those points:

  1. A school must conduct an initial evaluation, at no cost to the student’s parents or guardians, when it has reason to believe a student needs special education or related aids and services because of a disability.”
  2. There are many potential ways in which a student’s behavior may indicate the student has a disability and requires FAPE*.”
  3. When a school district has reason to believe a student needs special education or related services because of a disability, it cannot unreasonably delay the evaluation and may not ignore evidence indicating the student may be a student with a disability.”
  4. The fact that a student is doing well academically does not justify the school denying or delaying an evaluation when the district has reason to believe the student has a disability, including if the student has disability-based behavior resulting in removal from class or other discipline (e.g., afterschool detentions).”
  5. Evaluations under Section 504 must be administered by trained individuals and interpreted by a group of persons (referred to in this guidance as the Section 504 team) who are knowledgeable about the student, the meaning of the evaluation data, and the placement options.”
  6. The goal of an assessment, whether behavioral or otherwise, is to identify student needs and provide the Section 504 team with the information needed to determine effective services and supports for the student. 
  7. Where a student’s evaluation shows that challenging behavior is caused by or directly and substantially related to the student’s disability or disabilities, the placement decision by the Section 504 team must identify individualized services, such as behavioral supports, to meet the student’s educational needs.”
  8. To support a student’s needs, Section 504 teams can consider using information obtained through a behavioral assessment to proactively develop and implement a behavioral intervention plan (BIP) and incorporate the BIP into the student’s Section 504 plan.”
  9. To be useful in addressing the behavior, a BIP should include information about: acceptable replacement behaviors, who will teach the student to use those behaviors and how, what staff should do to support the student if the behavior of concern recurs, and how the Section 504 team will monitor and measure the BIP’s implementation and effectiveness.”
  10. Section 504 requires school districts to evaluate students with disabilities prior to any significant change in a student’s placement.’

*Free and Appropriate Public Education

If you believe your child may have a disability affecting them at school, including a behavior-related disability, you can write a letter to the school district’s Child Find coordinator to request an evaluation.

If you get calls from the school about your child’s behavior—especially if the school tells you that you cannot bring your child back to school until you get them a mental health evaluation or treatment—this could indicate the district is aware your child may have a disability related to behavior. In this case, the district should be working with you to evaluate your child, not asking you to get an outside evaluation.

We encourage you to keep a written record of the school’s contacts with you about your child’s behavior. This information can make your letter requesting an evaluation more helpful. Keeping a written record can also be useful if you believe the district may have violated your child’s rights to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). If you think the district violated your child’s right to FAPE, one option you have is to file a formal state complaint.

Families as Allies is always here to support families as you think through your options. You are welcome to call us at 601-355-0915. We are parents too, and we know what it’s like to want the best for our children but be confused about what happens at school. We will stand by your side as you figure out what options are best for your child and family.

[Photo by lilartsy on Unsplash]

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