New resources on students with disabilities published by U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) under the Department of Education has just unveiled four fresh resources aimed at providing essential information to students, parents, families, and educational institutions concerning the civil rights of students with disabilities. This release also includes a data snapshot sourced from OCR’s 2020-21 Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), outlining the educational access landscape for students with disabilities.

Intended to equip individuals and schools with knowledge about the rights granted under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, OCR’s latest resources underscore the prohibition of discrimination against students with disabilities in entities receiving federal financial aid, a category that encompasses nearly all public schools and both public and private higher education institutions.

“By launching these fresh resources, we aim to empower students, particularly those grappling with conditions like asthma, diabetes, food allergies, and GERD, along with their families and schools, with essential information about their rights in accordance with federal disability laws,” stated Catherine E. Lhamon, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights.

According to the recent CRDC data snapshot by OCR, there were 8.4 million students with disabilities in the 2020-21 academic year, constituting 17% of the total public school enrollment. Of this figure, 1.6 million students with disabilities exclusively received educational support and services under Section 504, making up 3% of the overall student population.

Figures from the National Center for Education Statistics indicate that in the 2019-20 academic year, undergraduates with disabilities accounted for 21% of the student body, while postbaccalaureate students with disabilities made up 11% of the total population.

The set of four new resources focuses on medical conditions that qualify as disabilities under Section 504, encompassing asthma, diabetes, food allergies, and GERD. These resources outline the circumstances under which these medical conditions trigger protections under Section 504, necessary modifications that educational institutions might need to implement to prevent discrimination, and steps an institution should take to rectify past discriminatory practices.

In addition, OCR has also rolled out a new CRDC data snapshot shedding light on the educational opportunities made available to public school students with disabilities in the 2020-21 academic year, highlighting discernible differences in the experiences of students with disabilities compared to their non-disabled counterparts. Examples include higher rates of physical restraint or seclusion among students with disabilities relative to non-disabled students.

The disparity extends to disciplinary actions, with students with disabilities facing a higher incidence of disciplinary measures compared to the overall student population. Moreover, these students were found to be underrepresented in Advanced Placement courses, gifted and talented programs, and dual enrollment or dual credit programs.

For those seeking further information, the new resources covering asthma, diabetes, food allergies, and GERD can be accessed on the OCR website. The latest CRDC disability snapshot, alongside other CRDC data reports and snapshots, are also available on the CRDC website.

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