Education Department Rolls Out Resources to Safeguard Rights of Students with Disabilities

United States Department of Education

WASHINGTON, D.C. — In a bid to fortify the civil rights of students with disabilities, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has launched four new resources. These materials are designed to inform students, their families, and schools about the legal protections under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

This federal law prohibits discrimination against students with disabilities by institutions that receive federal financial assistance. This includes almost all public schools and both public and private higher education institutions.

“Students with conditions like asthma, diabetes, food allergies, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), as well as their families and schools, need these tools to understand when and how they are protected by federal disability rights laws,” said Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, Catherine E. Lhamon.

The resources address common medical conditions that can be considered disabilities under Section 504. They provide clear explanations of when these conditions trigger protections under this law and what modifications an educational institution may need to make to prevent unlawful discrimination. They also outline the steps an institution may need to take to remedy past discrimination.

Alongside these resources, OCR released a data snapshot from its 2020-21 Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC). This snapshot reveals that 8.4 million students with disabilities made up 17% of the overall public school enrollment for that school year. Of these, 1.6 million students received educational aids and services exclusively under Section 504.

Furthermore, the Department’s National Center for Education Statistics estimates that students with disabilities accounted for 21% of undergraduates and 11% of postbaccalaureate students in the 2019-20 school year.

However, the CRDC snapshot also spotlights concerning disparities in the experiences of students with disabilities compared to their non-disabled peers. It shows that a greater percentage of students with disabilities were physically restrained or secluded than students without disabilities.

Moreover, students with disabilities were overrepresented in disciplinary actions relative to their total student enrollment. Conversely, they were underrepresented in Advanced Placement courses, gifted and talented programs, and dual enrollment or dual credit programs.

These findings underscore the importance of the new resources, which aim to help schools understand their obligations to students with disabilities and take proactive measures to ensure compliance with Section 504.

For students and their families, these resources offer a roadmap to understanding their rights and the protections they are entitled to under the law. New resources on asthma, diabetes, food allergies, and GERD can be found on the OCR website. The latest CRDC disability snapshot and other data reports are also accessible on the CRDC website.

The release of these crucial resources signifies a significant step forward in the Department of Education’s dedication to upholding the rights of students with disabilities. By offering concise and accessible information detailing Section 504 protections, the department is actively striving to guarantee that every student, irrespective of their health conditions or disabilities, is provided with the equitable opportunities needed to excel in their educational endeavors.

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