Schools Must Proactively Provide Evaluations Under Section 504 and the ADA

A school district in Alabama violated Section 504 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act because it failed to realize that a  9th grade student’s extensive absences and his mother’s request for homebound instruction was connected to his medical condition, Crohns disease (Cleburne County School District 55 IDELR 110, May 21, 2010). The student enrolled in 9th grade in August 2008. In September 2008 he was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease. Due to complications from his medical condition, the student missed numerous days of school  –he spent 90% of his time in the rest room.

The school district initially sent homework home for the student but when it became too difficult the mother requested a homebound teacher. The mother provided the principal with a note from the student’s doctor which recommended homebound services. The district denied the mother’s request for homebound services, informing her that the district could not afford a homebound teacher. Moreover, the school district received the student’s medical records, including a medical diagnosis, but the district never initiated a 504 evaluation. The parent later specifically requested a 504 evaluation, but after he had missed 30 days of school and she received no response to her request, she withdrew her son from school. Later, the mother sent a written 504 complaint to the White House which was forwarded to the Office for Civil Rights (OCR).

Section 504 requires that school districts establish and implement procedures for identifying students with disabilities. In this case, OCR concluded that the district had a Section 504 referral process in place, but it did not follow the procedure. Additionally, the process did not specifically address students who have a medical condition that may affect their education. Here, the school district never evaluated the student to determine whether he was a student with a disability or whether he needed special education and related services, including homebound instruction.

The school district did not connect the dots. The student’s (1) failure to attend school regularly connected to (2) the parent’s request for homebound instruction connected to (3) the note from the student’s doctor and other medical information, should have tipped off  the district that the student’s medical condition was negatively impacting his education. Thus, school officials should have evaluated the student to determine whether he has a disability.

To remedy the violation, the Office for Civil Rights required that within 14 days after the student re-enrolled in school, the school district convene a meeting to determine whether the student, because of his disability, needs special education or related services. If the student is eligible for services, the school district will determine whether the student needs compensatory education services for the 2009-2010 school year when he  did not receive related aids and services.

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