U.S. Department of Education Issues New Guidance About the Rights of Charter School Students with Disabilities

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Author: Heather Edwards, Attorney at Law

On December 28, 2016, the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) and the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) issued a joint Dear Colleague Letter which included two resource documents intended to provide the charter school community with information about the rights of charter school students with disabilities and prospective charter school students with disabilities.

The first document, entitled “Frequently Asked Questions about the Rights of Students with Disabilities in Public Charter Schools under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973,” emphasizes that charter school students with disabilities have the same Section 504 rights as other public school students with disabilities at the elementary and secondary education levels. In addition, the document offers information about the applicability of requirements for disability nondiscrimination and equal opportunity in recruitment, application, and admission to charter schools because the admissions policy or enrollment practices of charter schools may differ from that of traditional public schools.

The second document, entitled “Frequently Asked Questions about the Rights of Students with Disabilities in Public Charter Schools under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act,” outlines the rights of charter school students with disabilities and their parents on a variety of issues. Specifically, the IDEA document emphasizes that children with disabilities who attend charter schools and their parents retain all rights and protections under Part B of IDEA just as they would at other public schools. It also addresses the provision of FAPE, the State educational agency’s general supervisory authority, over all educational programs for children with disabilities in the State, including charter schools, child find and evaluations, placement, procedural safeguards, IDEA funding, IDEA obligations related to charter school closures, and other topics.

These documents may be helpful resources to share with your staff in their efforts to continue to ensure that all students receive the rights secured by these two federal laws.

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