There are federal laws that protect your child with a disability from discrimination by his or her school. Parents of children with disabilities should be aware of these laws in order to prevent any discrimination against their children based on their disability. By educating yourself about these laws, you can ensure that your school is complying with the requirements of these anti-discrimination laws, as well as protect your children from discrimination.
First, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act is a civil rights law that prevents schools from discriminating against students on the basis of their disabilities. Section 504 requires that schools provide equal access to education for all children, including children with disabilities, by providing accommodations, modifications, or other services as needed. While Section 504 doesn’t require that schools develop Individualized Education Plans for each child, it does require that schools take necessary measures so that disabled children have the same educational access as children without disabilities. Most importantly, Section 504 is not optional for schools. There can be repercussions for a school that does not comply with Section 504.
For instance, some children with disabilities must miss school on a regular basis due to illness or other medical issues. These children are entitled to Section 504 plans that will accommodate the absences, while still allowing the children to complete educational requirements as needed to progress in school. If this is an issue for your child, you should provide your school with the medical documentation necessary to justify the absences, and develop a plan with the school so that your child is still receiving an appropriate education.
Furthermore, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) also applies to children with disabilities. Section 504 essentially mirrors many of the ADA provisions by placing them in the context of programs receiving federal funding, such as schools. Both Section 504 and the ADA require that schools provide reasonable accommodations to children with disabilities so that they can receive the same education as children without disabilities. Of course, what is “reasonable” depends on the circumstances, and takes into account factors such as the size of the school, available resources, costs, and the likelihood that providing the requested accommodation would disrupt normal operations.
If you believe that your school is discriminating against your child in a way that violates Section 504 and/or the ADA, you may want to first sit down with school administrators and discuss your concerns. You are not required to make this contact with the school, but if there is a chance that you can resolve the matter without further action, it is certainly worth a try. If informal discussions do not resolve the issue, then you do have the option of filing a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights (OCR), which is an office within the U.S. Department of Education. The overall goal of the OCR is to work with the school to reach an agreement to modify its discriminatory actions in order to be in compliance with anti-discrimination laws. Keep in mind, however, that you generally must file a complaint with the OCR within 180 days of the date on which discrimination occurred; this time limit may be extended under some circumstances, but you should attempt to comply with this timeline if at all possible.