I wrote here several months ago about the somewhat controversial guidance released from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights in January of this year regarding what public school districts must do in order to accommodate students with disabilities under Section 504 of Rehabilitation Act. I wrote that some had expressed concern about the guidance, believing that OCR was overreaching and demanding actions from school districts that Section 504 does not require. Well, just last month, the National School Boards Association (NSBA) sent a letter to OCR seeking clarification of the guidance. The letter, which you can read here, states that the NSBA shares USDOE’s concern for protecting disabled students from discrimination, but “cautions OCR against the use of informal guidance . . . in a way that expands the substance and applicability of federal law and rules.”
Highlights from the NSBA letter:
- It accuses OCR of taking a more expansive view of its authority under Section 504 to regulate school conduct by suggesting that schools are required to perform individual assessments of a disabled student’s ability to participate in, and benefit from, athletics as well as affirmatively modify its athletic programs in order to meet the needs of students with disabilities.
- It suggests that OCR, through this guidance, has rendered hundreds of thousands of IEPs across the country insufficient, by applying the Section 504 Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) standard to athletic programs, as most IEPs fail to reference participation in athletics.
- It affirmatively asks that OCR state in clear and unambiguous terms that it is not adding requirements that Section 504 and OCR regulations do not now require, that it is not mandating that schools create separate sports teams for students with disabilities, and that it will not hold a school district accountable for failing to comply with the suggestions in the guidance.