Posted on November 11, 2013 by randychapman
The U.S. Department of Education recently announced an agreement with the Virtual Community School of Ohio, an internet based based, public charter school, ensuring compliance with Section 504 and Title II of the ADA. In the press release announcing the agreement, the Department of Education states:
“This first-of-its-kind resolution promises equal access to educational opportunities for students with disabilities at the school.” And, the press release goes on to say:
“Students with disabilities who attend online public charter schools are entitled to all the protections of the federal civil rights laws that their peers receive at traditional public schools, including the right to receive a free appropriate education. Online schools also must take steps to ensure that the websites and online classrooms they use to promote their services and to educate students are accessible to individuals with disabilities.”
The agreement requires the virtual school to:
- Develop Section 504 policies and procedures so that students with disabilities are appropriately identified, evaluated, , and provided services to ensure they receive a FAPE;
- Notify parents, guardians, and students of the revised Section 504 policies and procedures;
- Evaluate or reevaluate students with disabilities enrolled in the last two years to determine whether they need compensatory special education and/or related aids or services and, based on this evaluation, promptly provide compensatory services;
- Publish contact information for the school’s Section 504/Title II coordinator and ensure that the coordinator is appropriately trained;
- Develop and publish grievance procedures that provide for the prompt and equitable resolution of disability discrimination complaints;
- Provide training to staff involved in the evaluation and placement of students with disabilities;
- Develop policies and procedures to ensure that the school’s online technologies are accessible, including the adoption of technical standards to ensure accessibility;
- Revise its website and on-line learning environment so that they are accessible to individuals with disabilities, including students with visual, hearing, or print disabilities and those who otherwise require use of assistive technology to access the school’s program;
- Monitor the accessibility of the school online technologies; and
- Provide annual training for staff responsible for online technologies about the school’s
accessibility policies and procedures and their roles and responsibilities in ensuring online content is accessible.
The Office for Civil Rights will monitor the schools implementation of the agreement.
Filed under: Americans with Disabilities Act, children with disabilities, Disability Law, Section 504 | Leave a Comment »
Posted on August 8, 2013 by randychapman
One benefit of having a blog is having a forum to express my pet peeves. A major pet peeve of mine is those school districts and their attorneys who refuse to consider information related to conditions and disabilities a student may have other than the student’s special education disability label when conducting a manifestation determination review (MDR).
The manifestation determination review process was first put in place by the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) in 1995, when it issued its Memorandum 95-16, 22 IDELR 531 (April 26, 1995). The Office of Special Education Programs acknowledged that behavior, even inappropriate behavior that is caused by a disability, should be responded to differently than when the behavior is not related to the disability. Of course the IDEA was amended in 1997 to codify the MDR process.
If the purpose of conducting a manifestation determination is to not discriminate against students with disabilities by punishing them through expulsions and other long-term disciplinary sanctions for behavior they can’t help due to having a disability, then we must consider information related to conditions other than the special education “label”. If we only consider the student’s special education label in the MDR process and ignore other conditions that contribute to the student’s behavior, then we risk punishing the student for behavior related to a disability. That violates not only the IDEA, but 504 and the Americans with Disabilities Act as well.
Here is a decision that makes this point. In Seattle School District, 60 IDELR 266 (SEA WA 2012), the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) for the Washington State Education Agency required a school district to re-do an MDR because it had not considered information regarding other disabilities than the student’s special education disability “label”. The student had been identified for special education eligibility as having ADHD. When his MDR took place he had also been diagnosed with disruptive behavior disorder and with anxiety disorder. The MDR team did not consider information about these two other conditions.
The ALJ ruled that the MDR team must consider all relevant information in the student’s file, including the IEP, teacher observation, and any relevant information provided by the parents. The ALJ cited several SEA decisions and a OCR decision in stating that: “School districts may violate the IDEA when their manifestation determinations are based only upon the disability on which the student’s special education eligibility is based.” See Renton Sch. Dist., 111 LRP 3970 (SEA WA 2011); Snohomish Sch. Dist., 103 LRP 38270 (SEA WA 2003); Murrieta Valley Unified Sch. Dist., 53 IDELR 108 (SEA CA 2009); and Quincy (Wa) Sch. Dist., 52 IDELR 170 (OCR 2009).
So, when conducting a manifestation determination review the team should consider all relevant information including information regarding disabilities the student may have other than the disability on which the student’s special education eligibility is based.
Filed under: Americans with Disabilities Act, children with disabilities, Disability Law, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Section 504, Special Education Law | Leave a Comment »
Posted on August 7, 2013 by randychapman
In K.M. by Bright v. Tustin Unified Sch. Dist., 113 LRP 3187 (9th Cir. 08/06/13), the 9th Circuit of Appeals determined that the fact the school district developed an appropriate IEP for a student with a hearing impairment does not mean the student may not have claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
This case involved two California high school students with hearing impairments who had requested word-for-word transcription so that they could fully understand the teacher and fellow students without undue strain and consequent stress. The students were eligible for services under the IDEA and each had requested Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) either under the IDEA or Title II of the ADA (Title II is that part of the ADA that applies to state and local government entities, including school districts). CART is a word-for-word transcription service, like court reporting, in which a trained stenographer provides real-time captioning that appears on a computer monitor. In both cases, the school districts denied the CART services but offered other accommodations. The parents appealed and the cases proceeded to federal district court.
The district courts ruled that real-time transcription services were not necessary for the students to receive a free appropriate public education and need not be included on the IEP. Thus, the districts had complied with the IDEA. The courts then held that a valid IEP that complies with the IDEA, rules out an ADA claim.
The two district courts determined that (1) a valid IEP under the IDEA satisfies the requirement to provide a free appropriate public education under 504 and (2) Section 504 and Title II of the ADA are similar statutes, thus a valid IEP also complies with the ADA. This reasoning was based on the fact that section 504 requires that students with disabilities receive a free appropriate public education and the 504 regulations indicate that implementing an appropriate IEP is one means of complying with 504’s free appropriate public education requirement. Since 504 and Title II of the ADA are similar statutes, complying with 504 means complying with the ADA. Thus, once the IEP is determined appropriate, the 504/ADA claims are foreclosed.
The 9th Circuit disagreed. It said that the three statutes, the IDEA, 504, and ADA, each have different purposes and requirements. The IDEA is focused on an IEP process that should result in providing students with disabilities a free appropriate public education. The ADA and 504 have substantive requirements to ensure students with disabilities are not subjected to discrimination.
To that end, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has promulgated regulations to prevent such discrimination under the ADA. Those regulations include a requirement that public entities, such as school districts, take steps to ensure that communications with individuals with disabilities are as effective as communications with others. Moreover, those public entities, including school districts, must furnish auxiliary aids and services to afford individuals with disabilities equal access to the program being offered. Real-time-computer-transcription-services are specifically included in the definition of auxiliary aids and services.
The purpose of these auxiliary services under the ADA is to provide equal access for the student to the educational program offered by the school district. Providing equal access is not the same as providing a free appropriate public education under the IDEA. Ensuring equal access may require providing auxiliary aids and services that may be in addition to services required under the IDEA. Thus, a school district’s compliance with the IDEA may not always mean compliance with the ADA. The court also noted that administrative agencies are generally deferred to in interpreting their own regulations. Here, the DOJ had filed an amicus brief supporting that the ADA effective communication requirement for students who are deaf or hard-of-hearing was different than the requirements of the IDEA.
Finally, this decision does not mean these two students will receive the real-time transcription services. The 9th Circuit sent the cases back to the district courts so that those courts and the parties could relook at the issues based on this court’s decision. A key discussion in the districts courts will be whether providing the transcription services fundamentally alters the nature of the school program or is an undue financial and administrative burden on the school districts. If so, the ADA would not require the school districts to provide those auxiliary aids and services.
Filed under: Americans with Disabilities Act, children with disabilities, Disability Law, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Section 504, Special Education Law | Leave a Comment »
Posted on July 29, 2013 by randychapman
The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) determined that a Charter School in Colorado should have noticed when a student with cerebral palsy suddenly began using a wheelchair and should have evaluated her eligibility for a 504 plan. Aurora (CO) Public Schools 61 IDELR 83 (OCR Jan. 14, 2013), involved a student with cerebral palsy who attended a district Charter School. In January 2010, she began having difficulty climbing stairs and standing for long periods and started to use a wheelchair. Previously, she had not consistently used a wheelchair. Her mother and members of the Charter School staff met to discuss her use of the wheelchair and how to help her with it. The parent did not request a 504 evaluation and the school did not conduct one. Later, the mother filed a complaint with OCR alleging the Charter School should have initiated an evaluation. The Charter School responded by saying that: (1) the parent had not requested a 504 evaluation, and (2) the student was performing well academically, and thus, was not eligible for 504.
The OCR investigation found that, in fact, the Charter School had not evaluated the student for a suspected disability and the School did not have a designated 504/ Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Coordinator or a grievance process that complied with the 504/ADA requirements. Moreover, OCR noted that: (1) the School had an affirmative duty to identify and locate every qualified student with a disability and the School may not require a parent to request an evaluation, and (2) the fact the student is performing well academically did not exclude her from 504 eligibility. Under 504, a student is eligible if she has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, including functions such as caring for one’s self, performing manual tasks, walking seeing, hearing, learning, and breathing. The OCR specifically noted that “Although the School’s primary purpose is education, its obligation to follow Section 504 and Title II regarding its provision of services to students and others using School programs is not limited to disabilities that affect academic performance.”
The Charter School’s Colorado school district signed a resolution agreement to comply with section 504 and the ADA. In the resolution agreement the school district agreed, among other things, to convene a team meeting to determine the student’s 504 eligibility, publish on the Charter School’s website and in the parent handbook new 504 policy and procedures for identifying and providing services to students (including grievance procedures and designating a 504/ADA coordinator, submit the new policies to OCR for approval, and provide training to all Charter School staff on the requirements of 504 and Title II of the ADA.
There are a couple of interesting points about this decision. First, it’s unfortunate, but not unusual, for schools to fail to understand that eligibility for 504 services does not turn solely on a student having an impairment that substantially limits the major life activity of learning. A student may be performing very well academically and still need supports such as access to insulin injections, rest periods, a modified class schedule, a sign language interpreter, a note taker or access to a tape recorder, or Brailed or large print materials. Second, note that while it was the Charter School that violated 504, the school district responsible for the Charter School signed the resolution agreement with OCR and is responsible for ensuring compliance with the agreement. The school district approved the charter for the Charter School and is responsible for ensuring the Charter School’s compliance with federal law the same as any other district school.
Filed under: Americans with Disabilities Act, children with disabilities, Disability Law, Section 504, Special Education Law | 1 Comment »
Posted on July 3, 2013 by randychapman
In Waynesboro (PA) Area School District, 112 LRP 26149 (OCR 02/17/12), the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) determined that the fact a high school student with a learning disability had signed a behavioral contract did not allow the school district to change his placement without conducting a manifestation determination review (MDR). The student was African American and had been subjected to a number of incidents of racial harassment, some of which had resulted n physical altercations. The high school had made some effort to intervene with the harassing students and a counselor had worked with the student on how to handle these situations. In addition the student, his parent, the special education teacher, and acting assistant principal signed a Student Behavioral Contract with the student. The contract included a provision that the student would resolve conflict in a non-violent manner.
According to the district, the contract was drawn up because the student had been involved in several altercations, some of which, but not all, were the result of racial harassment. Unfortunately, the student later had a physical altercation with another African American student and, based on breaching the contract, his placement was changed to an alternative high school. Before the change in placement he was suspended for several days, bringing his total suspensions for the school year to twelve. Based on its belief that violating the Student Behavioral Contract justified the change in placement, the school did not conduct an MDR prior to changing his placement to the alternative high school.
The student’s parent filed a complaint with OCR alleging racial harassment and a violation of Section 504 and the Americans with Disabilities Act because the district failed to conduct a manifestation determination before changing the placement, failed to conduct an evaluation prior to the change in placement, and failed to provide the parent with her procedural safeguards. The Office for Civil Rights found in the parent’s favor and required the district to provide the MDR and evaluate the students need for compensatory services to compensate for educational services he may have lost as a result of the illegal change in placement.
Filed under: Americans with Disabilities Act, children with disabilities, Disability Law, Section 504, Special Education Law | Leave a Comment »
Posted on May 22, 2013 by randychapman
In Sutherlin v. Independent School District No 40 of Nowata County Oklahoma 113 LRP 20535 (N.D. Okla. 05/13/13), the U. S. District Court of Northern Oklahoma ruled that the parents of a 13-year-old boy with Asperger’s disorder and a learning disability could sue the school district under Section 504 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) because the boy was subjected to disability based bullying and harassment. The parents claimed that between 2010 and 2012, they reported 32 incidents to the school district of other students physically assaulting their son and mocking him about his difficulties with socialization. The parents also reported that other students called the boy names including the R word, crazy, creepy, and freak. The parents alleged that the school district failed to investigate these incidents or take further action to prevent future bullying.
In court the school district argued that the parents had not shown that the harassment by other students was disability based or that the school district was deliberately indifferent to the harassment. The court, drawing from other cases, set out a five point test for establishing a claim under 504 and the ADA for disability-based student- on- student harassment.
The student is an individual with a disability;
He or she was harassed based on the disability;
The harassment was sufficiently severe or pervasive that it altered the condition of his or her education and created an abusive educational environment;
The school district knew about the harassment, and
The school district was deliberately indifferent to the harassment.
Here, the school district agreed with the five point test, but disagreed that the parents had shown that the harassment was disability based or that the district was deliberately indifferent to it. The court, however, determined that the name-calling and mocking, if true, was sufficient to show disability based harassment. Moreover, the parents had alleged several instances in which the school district did not take action to cease or prevent the bullying behavior. The court stated, if the allegations were true, they showed deliberate indifference by the school district. Thus, the court denied the school district’s motion to dismiss the parents’ 504 and ADA claims and the disability based harassment case will move on.
Filed under: Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 | Leave a Comment »
Posted on May 7, 2013 by randychapman
Last week the Department of Justice (DOJ) released a letter to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) affirming that Wisconsin must ensure that students with disabilities who seek to enroll or are enrolled in private schools through Wisconsin’s taxpayer funded voucher program are not discriminated against on the basis of their disability. Wisconsin enacted laws creating the tax payer funded private school voucher program over 20 years ago and it was implemented in the city of Milwaukee by DPI. In June 2011 a collation of advocacy groups (the ACLU Foundation for Racial Justice, ACLU of Wisconsin, and Disability Rights Wisconsin) filed a complaint with the Department of Justice alleging that students in the Milwaukee Public Schools are (1) deterred by DPI and the private voucher schools from participating in the voucher program, (2) denied admission to voucher schools when they do apply, and (3) expelled or constructively forced to leave voucher schools as a result of policies and practices that fail to accommodate the needs of students with disabilities. These advocacy groups claimed the actions by DPI and the private voucher schools violate Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The Department of Justice investigated the allegations of the complaint and interviewed parents and public school district officials. Based on the investigation, DOJ determined that the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) must do more to enforce the ADA requirements that govern the treatment of students with disabilities who participate in the private school voucher program. Because the voucher program is publicly funded and administered by the state, it must comply with Title II of the ADA. Title II is the section of the ADA that applies to state and local governmental entities. Thus, DPI must ensure students with disabilities are not discriminated against based on their disability. According to the letter:
“DPI’s obligation to eliminate discrimination against students with disabilities in its administration of the school choice program is not obviated by the fact that the schools participating in the program are private secular and religious schools. Indeed, courts recognize that the agency administering a public program has the authority and obligation under Title II to take appropriate steps in its enforcement of program requirements to prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities; regardless of whether services are delivered directly by a public entity or provided through a third-party.”
Specifically, DOJ required the Wisconsin DOI to comply with:
- ADA Title II Obligations. DPI must eliminate discrimination against students with disabilities or students whose parents or guardians have disabilities. The private or religious status of the individual voucher schools does not absolve DPI of that responsibility.
- Complaints. DPI must establish and publicize a complaint procedure for individuals to file disability-based complaints and provide DOJ with copies of those complaints.
- Data and Reporting. DPI must provide detailed data regarding how students with disabilities are being served by voucher schools.
- Public Outreach. DPI must conduct outreach to educate families of students with disabilities about school choice programs, and provide specific and accurate information about the rights of students with disabilities and the services available at voucher schools.
- Monitoring and Oversight. DPI must ensure that voucher schools do not discourage students with disabilities from applying for admission, or improperly reject a student with a disability who does apply to a voucher school. Voucher schools cannot exit/expel a student with a disability unless the school has first determined, on a case-by-case basis, that there are no reasonable modifications to school policies, practices or procedures that would enhance the school’s ability to serve the student.
- ADA Training for Voucher Schools. DPI must provide mandatory ADA training to voucher schools on a periodic basis and submit a copy of the training materials and attendance sheets to DOJ.
- Guidance. By the end of 2013, DPI must develop program guidance to assist and educate voucher schools about ADA compliance. That guidance must be developed in consultation with DOJ.
Filed under: Americans with Disabilities Act, children with disabilities, Disability Law, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Section 504 | Leave a Comment »
Posted on February 6, 2013 by randychapman
In South Bronx (NY) Classical Charter School, 59 IDELR 231 (OCR 2012) the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) determined that the school’s frequent early dismissals of a kindergartner with a speech/language impairment required a manifestation determination (MD) meeting before excluding the student from school for more than 10 days. Per Section 504 (and the IDEA) school districts cannot discipline students with disabilities by excluding them from school for more than 10 consecutive school days or, in some cases, nonconsecutive school days, without first conducting a manifestation determination (MD) review. In this case, the school district suspended the child for one day for making a gun sign with his fingers and stating he was going to kill his teacher. The school implemented a series of early dismissals to control the student’s inappropriate behaviors. Those behaviors included failing to cooperate and follow directions, yelling, howling, and throwing items at school staff. The student was released from school at 1 p.m. from Oct 11, 2011 through Oct. 17, 2011 and from noon on Oct. 18, 2011 through Oct. 28, 2011. The district did not provide him with supplemental instruction on those early release days.
The parent filed a complaint with OCR which initiated an investigation. OCR determined that, although the student’s exclusions were not for consecutive or full days, they amounted to a pattern that significantly changed his placement. As a result, before excluding the student for more than 10 school days, the district should have convened a group of knowledgeable persons to determine whether the student’s conduct was a manifestation of his disability. To remedy the violation, the school district agreed to provide training to its staff regarding the requirements of 504 relating to disciplining students with disabilities and appropriately implement those requirements. The school district has also agreed to provide additional school services to compensate the student for the time he missed due to the early dismissals.
Filed under: Americans with Disabilities Act, children with disabilities, Disability Law, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Special Education Law | Leave a Comment »
Posted on January 28, 2013 by randychapman
Last Friday, January 25, 2013, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued a formal guidance to clarify the 504 responsibility of schools to ensure that students with disabilities have equal access to participate in extracurricular athletics. In 2010, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) had issued a report that noted the health and social benefits all students derive from participating in extracurricular athletic activities in elementary and secondary schools. Unfortunately, the GAO report found that students with disabilities are not being afforded an equal opportunity to participate in extracurricular athletics in schools. To help remedy that concern, the OCR issued this guidance.
The guidance provides an overview of the 504 obligations of public elementary and secondary schools and provides examples and suggestions for helping students with disabilities participate in athletics. The document warns schools against making decisions based on presumptions and stereotypes and discusses providing separate or different athletic opportunities for some students with disabilities. For example:
- A student has a learning disability and participated in middle school’s lacrosse club. Upon entering 9th grade, her coach is aware of her learning disability and has a preconceived notion that students with learning disabilities would be unable to play under the time constraints and pressures of an actual game. As a result, she does not play in actual games and the coach feels participating in practice is sufficient. This violates 504. While the student does not have a right to participate in games, the coaches decision regarding her playing time must be based on the same criteria as other players and not on his presumptions about her disability.
A high school student has a hearing impairment and wants to run for the school track team. During tryouts the races are started by a visual cue and the student makes the team. Races during practice are also started with a visual cue. Before the first scheduled meet, the student asks the district to use a visual cue at the meet simultaneously with the starter pistol sounds. But, the district denies the students request and the coach informs him he can only run in practices, not in meets. This violates 504, the use of a visual cue does not require a fundamental alteration in how the meets are conducted.
The guidance offers other examples and discusses offering separate or different athletic opportunities for students with disabilities. For example, school districts are increasingly creating disability-specific teams for sports such as wheelchair tennis or wheelchair basketball. When the number of students at a particular school is insufficient to field a team, school districts can also (1) develop regional teams (2) mix male and female students on team together; and (3) offer allied or unified sports teams on which students without disabilities participate with students with disabilities.
In conclusion, OCR stresses its commitment to working with schools, students, families, community and advocacy organizations athletic associations, and others to ensure students with disabilities are provided an equal opportunity to participate in extracurricular athletics Finally, OCR notes that individuals who believe they have been subjected to discrimination may file a complaint with OCR or in court.
Filed under: Americans with Disabilities Act, children with disabilities, Section 504 | Leave a Comment »
Posted on January 9, 2013 by randychapman
In People of the State of Illinois v Illinois High School Athletic Association, 59 IDELR 153 (N.D. Ill 2012), the Office of the Attorney General in Illinois sought an injunction against the Illinois High School Activities Association (IHSA) to require the IHSA to adopt policies and procedures to allow student athletes with disabilities the chance to compete in IHSA-sanctioned events and competitions. In Illinois ninety eight percent of Illinois public and private schools are included in the IHSA and these schools rely on the IHSA to organize and administer their state championship meets. Moreover, the IHSA regulates all of the interscholastic activities for its member schools including: establishing eligibility criteria for student athletes, determining which member schools can compete, setting the times and dates during which activities can be held, establishing scoring rules and qualifying standards for student athletes, and regulating qualifications for coaches and officials. The IHSA, however, had not promulgated rules that would permit athletes with disabilities to score points in interscholastic meets. Thus, students who have disabilities that prevent them from meeting the existing state qualifying standards are denied the opportunity to compete in IHSA-run state championship meets. When asked to remedy the situation in order not to discriminate against students with disabilities in violation of Section 504 and Title II of the ADA, the IHSA took the position that it was a private entity and not covered by either of those federal civil rights laws. As a result, the Illinois Attorney General and Equip for Equality, the Illinois Protection & Advocacy System, sued the IHSA.
In the complaint the Attorney General focused upon a particular student’s experience. M.K. was a 16-year-old student with physical disabilities including lower limb paralysis. She needed the use of a full-time wheelchair. She had been swimming with her high school swim team since her freshman year and had participated in local interscholastic track and swim meets. In fact, her swimming times placed her among the top adaptive high school swimmers in Illinois. Her disability, however, prevented her from meeting the qualifying standards that the IHSA sets for swimmers without disabilities. So, she is unable to earn points for her team in these competitions She was, therefore excluded from participating in meets on behalf of her high school. Prior to filing the lawsuit, the Attorney General met with representatives of the IHSA and proposed that the IHSA set up exhibition heats and other activities for athletes with disabilities. The IHSA’s executive director expressed concern that the IHSA may be exposed to liability but said the IHSA would respond to the proposal. Instead of responding the IHSA filed suit against the Attorney General, who then sued the IHSA under 504 and Title II of the ADA.
The court disagreed with the IHSA’s position that as a private entity Section 504 and the ADA did not apply to the IHSA. Section 504 applies to entities that receive federal financial assistance. The IHSA moved to dismiss the case, arguing that it received no such assistance. The Attorney General responded that the IHSA received federal assistance indirectly from its member school districts. Moreover, the IHSA argued that Title II of the ADA did not apply to it because it was not a public entity. The court determined that since 98% of Illinois schools are members of the IHSA the Attorney General had alleged sufficient facts for the case to go to trial.
After failing to get the case dismissed, the IHSA settled it in September of 2012. The settlement agreement allowed swimmers with disabilities to compete in the 50 yard, 100 yard, 200 yard freestyle and the 100 yard breaststroke.
Filed under: Americans with Disabilities Act, Disability Law, Section 504 | Leave a Comment »