School District Could Not Rely Solely on Good Grades When Determining 504 Eligibility

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In Cabarrus County (NC) Schs., 59 IDELR 113 (OCR XI, D.C. (NC) 2012), the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) determined that a North Carolina school district may have mistakenly determined a 14 year-old student with a traumatic brain injury (TBI)  ineligible for services because it only looked at his grades and did not consider information from a variety of sources regarding his educational experience. The student had been hit by a car and as a result suffered severe headaches, memory loss, dizziness, and nausea. He also had problems concentrating and paying attention. His mother provided the school district with a neurologist's prescription for a 504 Plan. The district, however, determined that the student did not have a disability and was not eligible for a 504 Plan. The school district based its decision solely on the student's satisfactory grades, standardized test scores, and data from two classroom observations. The OCR determined that, while that information is relevant, the district failed to gather other necessary information from the student's parents, medical providers, and other teachers.

Consequently, the school district did not consider the impact of his injury on major life activities other than learning. In order to have a disability under Section 504 an individual must have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Learning is one major life activity, but there are other major life activities. Since it only considered the student's grades, the district failed to conduct tests on the student's memory, concentration, or cognitive functioning. These tests are routinely conducted as part of a neuropsychological assessment that can assist in determining the impact of a TBI on educational performance. Moreover, the district never considered whether the student needed psychological or other testing. Thus, the school district did not have the necessary information from a variety of sources to make an accurate determination of the student's eligibility under Section 504.

To remedy the violation, the school district agreed to re-evaluate the student's 504 eligibility using the appropriate additional information. The student's eligibility will be determined by a team of knowledgeable people. If the student is determined eligible, the team will also consider whether any compensatory services are necessary for the time the student has been without support services. The team will also calculate the amount of compensatory services and develop a plan to provide the compensatory services. Finally, the school district will provide training to its staff regarding  the definition of disability under Section 504, evaluating students under Section 504, and Section 504's placement requirements.