Homebound Student May Use 504 and the ADA to Challenge School District’s Policy Excluding Him from the Senior Graduation Party and Dance
District Discriminated Against Student by Failing to Follow 504 Plan Requiring Weekly E mails and Written Copies of Homework & Lecture Notes
Parents frequently ask which is better enforced: An IEP or a 504 Plan? While the 504 regulations do not specify the detail regarding developing a 504 plan that the IDEA provides regarding IEPs, 504 Plans can be very detailed and can be enforced. For example, in Morris (NJ) School District, 111 LRP 70051 (OCR 2011), the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) determined that the Morris School District discriminated against a student on the basis of his disability because it did not comply with his 504 Plan (see Opening the School Door to Section 504 for more information on 504). The high school student had a 504 plan that required the school district to provide the student : (1) feedback through weekly e mails in each of his classes; (2) written copies of homework assignments; (3) written copies of class lecture notes; and (4) to review and update the Student’s school contract. Concerned that the school was not complying with the 504 Plan in the 2010-2011 school year, the student’s mother filed a complaint with OCR.
The Office for Civil Rights conducted a very thorough investigation of the parent’s allegations. For example, OCR looked at each of the student’s nine classes during the school year and determined that, while the teachers provided occasional e mails to the student, the e mails were not weekly. Regarding the written homework assignments and class lecture notes, the school district contended that, while the student did not receive written hard copies, he was provided access electronically via a Netbook and an iPAD. The Office for Civil Rights, however, determined that electronic access through assistive technology was not the same as access to written hard copies of the assignments and notes. Finally, OCR determined that in the 2009-2010 school year, District personnel had developed a contract with the student requiring him to maintain a B+ average or he would suffer a negative consequence, such as being excluded from extracurricular activities. The school district, however, did not review and update the contract for the 2010-2011 school year, violating 504 by not complying with the 504 Plan.
In order to resolve the complaint, the school district agreed to provide training to the teachers and other staff at Morristown High School regarding the requirements of the regulations implementing Section 504. Additionally, the school district was required to provide documentation of the training, including the name and credentials of the trainer, the date of the training, copies of the training materials, and proof of attendance by the district staff. According to OCR, since the student had graduated and no longer attended the high school, the parent did not request that her son receive compensatory services.
Today, the US Department of Education published the Restraint and Seclusion: Resource Document to “help ensure that schools are safe and healthy environments where all students can learn, develop and participate in instructional programs that promote high levels of academic achievement.” The publication outlines principles for educators, parents, and other stakeholders to consider when developing or refining policies and procedures to support positive behavioral interventions and avoid the use of restraint and seclusion. The following are the fifteen principles taken verbatim from the document. The publication then elaborates on these principles and provides information of the efforts of the Department of Education, the Office for Civil Rights, the Office of Special Education Programs, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to address these concerns.
“ 1. Every effort should be made to prevent the need for the use of restraint and for the use of seclusion.
2. Schools should never use mechanical restraints to restrict a child’s freedom of movement, and schools should never use a drug or medication to control behavior or restrict freedom of movement (except as authorized by a licensed physician or other qualified health professional).
3. Physical restraint or seclusion should not be used except in situations where the child’s behavior poses imminent danger of serious physical harm to self or others and other interventions are ineffective and should be discontinued as soon as imminent danger of serious physical harm to self or others has dissipated.
4. Policies restricting the use of restraint and seclusion should apply to all children, not just children with disabilities.
5. Any behavioral intervention must be consistent with the child’s rights to be treated with dignity and to be free from abuse.
6. Restraint or seclusion should never be used as punishment or discipline (e.g., placing in seclusion for out-of-seat behavior), as a means of coercion or retaliation, or as a convenience.
7. Restraint or seclusion should never be used in a manner that restricts a child’s breathing or harms the child.
8. The use of restraint or seclusion, particularly when there is repeated use for an individual child, multiple uses within the same classroom, or multiple uses by the same individual, should trigger a review and, if appropriate, revision of strategies currently in place to address dangerous behavior; if positive behavioral strategies are not in place, staff should consider developing them.
9. Behavioral strategies to address dangerous behavior that results in the use of restraint or seclusion should address the underlying cause or purpose of the dangerous behavior.
10. Teachers and other personnel should be trained regularly on the appropriate use of effective alternatives to physical restraint and seclusion, such as positive behavioral interventions and supports and, only for cases involving imminent danger of serious physical harm, on the safe use of physical restraint and seclusion.
11. Every instance in which restraint or seclusion is used should be carefully and continuously and visually monitored to ensure the appropriateness of its use and safety of the child, other children, teachers, and other personnel.
12. Parents should be informed of the policies on restraint and seclusion at their child’s school or other educational setting, as well as applicable Federal, State, or local laws.
13. Parents should be notified as soon as possible following each instance in which restraint or seclusion is used with their child.
14. Policies regarding the use of restraint and seclusion should be reviewed regularly and updated as appropriate.
15. Policies regarding the use of restraint and seclusion should provide that each incident involving the use of restraint or seclusion should be documented in writing and provide for the collection of specific data that would enable teachers, staff, and other personnel to understand and implement the preceding principles.”
Again, this document can be found at the US Department of Education website.