December 11, 2018
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION OFFICE FOR CIVIL RIGHTS THE ASSISTANT SECRETARY
October 21, 2014
I. Overview of Federal Protections for Students with Disabilities in Schools
OCR enforces Section 504 and Title II, both of which prohibit disability discrimination. Section 504 prohibits disability discrimination by recipients of Federal financial assistance.7 OCR enforces Section 504 against entities that receive Federal financial assistance from the Department, including all public schools and school districts as well as all public charter schools and magnet schools. Under Section 504, recipients that operate a public elementary or secondary education program must provide students with disabilities equal educational opportunities. Among other things, this means they must ensure that students with disabilities receive FAPE, defined as the provision of regular or special education and related aids and services that are designed to meet the individual educational needs of students with disabilities as adequately as the needs of students without disabilities are met and that satisfy certain requirements concerning educational setting, evaluation, placement, and procedural safeguards.8 Schools also have an obligation under Section 504 to evaluate students who need or are believed to need special education or related services. Further, schools have an obligation to ensure that Section 504 FAPE services are provided in an educational setting with persons who do not have disabilities to the maximum extent appropriate to the needs of the student with a disability.9 Schools often document these services in written plans, sometimes referred to as Section 504 plans, or, if the child is receiving IDEA FAPE services, through the required individualized education program (IEP).10
Title II prohibits disability discrimination by public entities, including all public schools and school districts, as well as all public charter schools and magnet schools, regardless of whether they receive Federal financial assistance.11 OCR, along with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), enforces Title II in public elementary and secondary schools. Title II is generally construed to provide no less protection than Section 504. Therefore, violations of Section 504, including the failure to provide needed regular or special education and related aids and services to students with disabilities, also constitute violations of Title II.12.
IDEA is another key Federal law addressing the needs of students with disabilities. OSERS, not OCR or DOJ, administers IDEA.13 OCR, however, enforces the Section 504 and Title II rights of IDEA-eligible students.14 Under Part B of IDEA, the Department provides Federal funds to State educational agencies and through them to local educational agencies (school districts), to assist school districts in providing FAPE to eligible children with disabilities through the provision of special education and related services.15 School districts must ensure that IDEA FAPE services in the least restrictive environment are made available to all eligible children with disabilities through a properly developed IEP that provides a meaningful educational benefit to the student. In addition, school districts must locate, identify, and evaluate children suspected of having disabilities who may need special education and related services.
7 29 U.S.C. § 794; 34 C.F.R. pt. 104.
8 For Section 504 and Title II, the term “disability” means a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of an individual; a record of such an impairment; or being regarded as having such an impairment. 29 U.S.C. § 705(9)(B), (20)(B); 42 U.S.C. § 12102. The Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (Amendments Act), Pub. Law No. 110-325, amended the disability definition for Section 504 and Title II. Most notably, the Amendments Act required that “disability” under these statutes be interpreted broadly. More information about the Amendments Act is available from OCR’s website at http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/letters/colleague201109.html
9 In this letter, the term “Section 504 FAPE services” is used to refer to the regular or special education and related aids and services provided to students with disabilities as specified in 34 C.F.R. § 104.33(b). The term “IDEA FAPE services” is used in this letter to refer to the special education and related services provided to students with disabilities that meet the requirements of 34 C.F.R. pt. 300, as specified in 34 C.F.R. §§ 300.17 (FAPE), 300.39 (special education), and 300.34 (related services).
10 Students with disabilities who are IDEA-eligible also have rights under Section 504 and Title II. The Department’s Section 504 regulations provide that implementation of an IEP developed in accordance with IDEA is one means of providing Section 504 FAPE services. 34 C.F.R. § 104.33(b)(2).
11 42 U.S.C. §§ 12131-12134; 28 C.F.R. pt. 35.
12 42 U.S.C. § 12201(a). To the extent that Title II provides greater protection than Section 504, covered entities must comply with Title II’s requirements.
13 For more information about OSERS, please visit http://www.ed.gov/osers
14 This letter only addresses Federal law; other State or local laws and policies may apply.
15 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400-1419; 34 C.F.R. pt. 300. IDEA establishes 13 disability categories: autism, deaf-blindness, deafness, emotional disturbance, hearing impairment, intellectual disability, multiple disabilities, orthopedic impairment, other health impairment, specific learning disability, speech or language impairment, traumatic brain injury, and visual impairment. 34 C.F.R. § 300.8(c).