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Know Your Rights

Last week, the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) released new guidance designed to help schools meet the needs of students with disabilities and avoid the discriminatory use of student discipline. While this guidance is designed for schools, it reinforces some key concepts that are important for our community to know and remember.

"Schools must, in a timely manner, evaluate a student at no cost to the student’s parents or guardians when the school has reason to believe the student may have a disability. "

Public schools must provide a no-cost evaluation if a learning disability is suspected. There are two particularly important notes included here too:

1) If a student is doing well academically, that fact does not justify denying or delaying an evaluation when the school has reason to believe the student has a disability.

2) Schools must respond to parent or guardian requests for an evaluation, and a denial of the request can be challenged under the procedural safeguards.

The Q&A document contains this important reminder for all stakeholders:

The cornerstone of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is the entitlement of each eligible child with a disability to free appropriate public education (FAPE) that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet the child’s unique needs and that prepares the child for further education, employment, and independent living.

The services should always meet the child's unique needs. This includes needs in handwriting, spelling, and composition that are common in our community.

And remember, the guidance was specifically around avoiding discrimination in schools.

Disability discrimination includes:
• not making needed reasonable modifications;
• unnecessarily treating a student differently based on disability; and
• implementing a policy with unjustified discriminatory effects based on disability

While the new guidance focuses more on behavioral aspects of disabilities, discrimination can happen in many forms. It is important for everyone to know and recognize how disability discrimination is defined. The guidance and this accompanying fact sheet lay out principles for how discipline can and can not be provided in the context of IDEA.

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