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Expert Q&A

Can schools consider academic performance when evaluating a child’s special education status?

My 16-year-old daughter has had sensory processing disorder for many years but was recently reevaluated for that and also diagnosed with auditory processing disorders and ADHD. We have had team meetings with her teachers, counselor, and the school psychologist, but the school has denied us either a 504 or an IEP because they believe she is doing too well academically to need them. I know that IDEA requires that students be below grade level to some degree, but I thought that section 504 applied even if a student was succeeding in school. I also thought that impairment in hearing and concentrating (ADHD) counted as disabilities under section 504. Shouldn’t she be able to receive accommodations from the school district for her disabilities even if she’s doing well academically?

You are partly correct in relation to each point, but also partly wrong in relation to each. See some of my prior answers in other months about the differing eligibility standards for special education and Section 504 plans. Academic problems are not the only basis for eligibility under either law. A student could be doing well academically under either and still be eligible under either, due to problems with social skills, behavior, organizational skills, or other issues. However, both laws require that the problem have a significant impact on the child’s functioning. Each also requires that the student needs some form of intervention to address the disability and its impact. The difference is that to be eligible for special ed (an IEP), the student must require some form of special education instruction, whereas to be eligible for a Section 504 plan, a student can be eligible based solely on the need for related services or accommodations.

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