Congress awarded students with disabilities extra protections in recent years. Now, the U.S. Department of Education is stepping up its efforts to ensure that schools are following the new rules.
In a letter sent this week to school districts and state education leaders, officials at the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights took pains to spell out the obligations schools have under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act.
Though the ADA update took effect three years ago, the correspondence suggests that many schools may not be abiding by it. In light of this, federal officials are offering technical guidance and say that they will be upping their enforcement efforts.
“We must continue to take steps to enable every child, regardless of disability, to reach their full potential,” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said. “This guidance reiterates the department’s commitment to ensure that educational opportunity is provided free from disability discrimination.”
The ADA update broadened the definition of disability that schools must honor and asked districts to simplify the special education evaluation process.
Specifically, it guaranteed that students could qualify for disability services even if they have a condition that affects them intermittently, like bipolar disorder.
What’s more, under the recent law, a student may be eligible for special education services even if they are already performing well in school so long as they have an impairment that “substantially limits a major life activity,” according to documentation included in the Education Department correspondence.
Given the expanded definition of disability, districts now have an obligation to evaluate a wider swath of students for special education services, the Education Department told schools. And, such evaluations are supposed to be quick and simple. In the guidance, federal officials are urging schools to ensure that their evaluations don’t require “extensive analysis” in order to determine whether or not a disability is present.