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Feds Crack Down On Schools Skirting Disabilities Act


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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.

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Comments (15 Responses)

  1. Jennifer says:

    I hope they noticed that schools are skirting ada for their employees.

  2. Kevin says:

    Great that they acknowledge that the schools “skirt the Disabilities Act” but as someone that has had TWO complaints purposely IGNORED by OCR I would like OCR to RECOGNIZE they also need to stop skirting the investigations against the school who are SKIRTING the Disabilities Act.

  3. Johannes says:

    I see this as a two edged sword. Many school employees in special ed are already overworked. I have done my share of quick and dirty evaluations, but they are not always appropriate especially on a large scale.

  4. DoRightAtWork says:

    As a practitioner serving as a school psychologist in public school districts, this is what parents, disability rights advocates, and the government needs to know: Until there is protection for Whistle blowers or those who are in the schools as employees when they try to alert others in regard to many areas of neglect directed against special needs, there will remain many problems. Often practitioners in the schools are discouraged, even prohibited from advocating for the student when it is appropriate. Fearful of retaliation practitioner/employees will remain silent. There is no protection. And, the protections said to be in place are inadequate, deficient, and do not cover a salary once you are fired.
    I agree with Kevin. I had several colleagues to report to OCR over the years and nothing happened except they became a target and lost their jobs. Lets face it without protection for those who stand up, these laws are just lip service and only get implemented when there is a case that is chosen as an example for others.

  5. Lynn says:

    Great to read this news …BUT… parents still need to be vigilent and learn the laws of Special Ed with respect to the rights of their special needs child and not be afraid to speak up. There are still way too many incidents of covered up violations within regular school districts, Intermediate Unit programs hiding behind school district protection, and segregated programs.

    I have witnessed and personally experienced all of the above yet there are still too many current violations that affect the rights of these children by professionals in the special ed fields, sadly. If teachers and therapists are stretched to the max then they must request help and not be remiss in neglecting their job and therefore, adversely affecting the student’s education and future. Why are these professionals still in this field if they cannot support the needs of the most vulnerable members of our communities? Most professional educators or administrators in special ed complain about the parents of special needs kids… they should all be invited into our homes to walk in our shoes. If they cannot support this field and commit to their job responsibilities then change jobs! I am tired of hearing how stressed they are… and of them complaining about “how difficult parents of special ed children can be”…if it was their child having needs not met and having to accept an education with glaring violations and report it and admin. covers it up…. ask the families that are the recipients of these violations from the teams that are responsible in special ed… !

  6. karmin satterfield says:

    i pulled my kids out of ther schools because there were things with them having special needs that the school was not willing to address so i am now homeschooling them due to the stuation.

  7. Motheroffour says:

    I agree with what Lynn said down below. Ashe’s right! I’ve witnessed my son being pulled by his limbs by both special ed resource room teachers here in Michigan. They were also kicking and hitting him. I’ve made several police reports and got the state involved and to me that’s not good enough for what happen to my son and other people’s children that were getting beat up, including the principal, she was doing this too, to our children. Enough is enough and it shouldn’t have to make us parents feel like no school can be trustworthy anymore.

  8. hdemic says:

    I have said it before and I will say it again. The schools just won’t do it. Unless they get a real kick in the butt (and I mean a big one) they won’t do it. They have for too long got away with too much. And I am talking about basic needs of kids. Feeding and nutrition (not advacating everyone to be tube fed for time sake) Toilet (attempting toilet training and bowel regimine) Reading(there is nothing hard about reading to a child). Basic stuff that many special ed schools don’t seem to have a grip on. We won’t even talk about technology. Its not about money folks it just about a bad culture of bad prioritys.
    mom of a disabled child in Michigan that home schools

  9. says:

    The Office of Civil Rights getting tough on school districts. If anyone desires to believe everything in print, I’m sure there are a lot of people out in La La Land that would like to sell to those people a lot of bridges.

    What a joke. As the ole Indian Chief one said, “White man speaks with forked tongue”. What is written on paper by white man may as well be written in vanishing ink, for man in government can’t even keep what he writes within head.

  10. Kathy says:

    AMEN to Jennifer!!! ADA is considered a joke by state government and federal government when it comes to their employees. President Obama has taken a strong stand; he stated that he has appointed individuals who will be in charge of violation of ADA and FMLA law. Our state has the best ADA coordinator and he’s doing all he can; however, individual agencies could all be facing major class action lawsuits if people banned together.

  11. Ted Mauro says:

    I agree with everyone who has posted below because we have faced the same problems. OCR complaints going nowhere because no one looked, teachers fired for try to get schools to follow the law (with High education people also being in jeopardy as tenure disappears), due process boards stacked, court cases not reviewed and funding cut. There are people in DC who are also afraid to speak up as well. We must remain to be their voices and we must organize.

  12. Lyelle Palmer, Ph.D. says:

    Sounds to me like we need a new level of professionalism in advocacy. What about the special education teacher becoming an advocate for a child in a different district? List yourself in the services directory as an advocate with professional training in SpEd (anonymously if necessary). Another approach is to offer your advocacy services through an organization such as a local chapter of the Council for Exceptional Children, Learning Disabilities Association, ARC, or other orgs. Charge what is affordable to parents and take on only one case at a time. Make the SpEd teaching profession truly professional. The children and parents need advocates, and the parent organizations are what produced the legislation the funded our jobs. Become an advocate.

  13. Karen Cormack says:

    Even when extensive analysis is undertaken showing 2 std deviation discrepancies in expected performance school districts withold determination until students fail ….. and yet research indicates students failing reading at grade 3 have only a 6 percent success rate in reaching and maintaining grade level proficiency in the 10th grade…… How do parents get accountability on this…. I had to get a lawyer.

  14. Christine says:

    Parts of this article hurt the credibility of the processes involved in evaluations, diagnosis, and/or services. For example(s):”Evaluations are supposed to be quick and simple.” Requesting an evaluation is simple. The evaluation process are to follow strict timelines and strict guidelines to ensure accuracy, reliability, validity, and compliance.; “We must continue to take steps to enable every child, regardless of disability, to reach their full potential.” Reaching full potential cannot be guaranteed. However the laws require that each individual have access and opportunity to benefit from an appropriate education. ; “The ADA update broadened the definition of disability that schools must honor and asked districts to simplify the special education evaluation process.” The reason for broadening the definition of disability is because schools/districts followed the list(s) provided on their forms. Many ignored/disregard the fact that the laws state that the lists are non-exhaustive. Meaning, just because it isn’t on the list doesn’t mean it isn’t eligible. ;”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.” Not true, no one is exempt from providing each individual w/ appropriate and thorough evaluations. Eligibility is determined by carefully analyzing the data from several sources w/ a team of qualified people. No single, cookie-cutter criterion may be used to qualify an individual..

    We should not want things simplified for our disabled loved ones. We do expect that their civil rights always be protected like our loved ones w/o disabilities.

    If people could be trusted to do what is right, there would be no need for evaluations, paperwork, etc…

  15. 1concernedcitizen says:

    It’s about time, however “compliance” with the prior and current so called Protections means zilch when complaints are made and nothing gets done about it. Whistleblower protections are non existant, and the only ones who suffer are the students, nevermind the families…Standing up and speaking out sometimes gets you even more turbulence. In agreement with posts by DoRightAtWork, Lynn, Karmin, MotherofFour, Hdemic,Ted, Karen and Christine.
    Perhaps even the hoops jumped through to get IEP/CSE recommendations met get some parents idly threatened for example : How about having one special education teacher/individual telling you to “tread Lightly”? Or a counselor saying they only coddle the students who are doing good….The race to the top of Education especially for struggling learners leaves little room for those who do not know the special education laws or rights and if you do not have Money to fight or in order to obtain legal representation specialists in disability/educational laws well then, your children are left behind in a broken system or you have to take proactive measures to get them educated in alternative ways. Funding for public schools is what seemingly is all the public schools are interested in not the individual students who need special services.

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