On May 13, 2021, the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights published a Q&A on Civil Rights and School Reopening in the COVID-19 Environment. The document is aimed at “helping schools reopen safely and in ways that support equity among students” and addresses obligations under Section 504 (prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability), Title VI (prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin), and Title IX (prohibiting discrimination based on sex). In the disability section, most of the answers repeat or expand on prior guidance from the Department. And on the one question where we are anticipating new guidance, the answer: keep anticipating. “The Department is aware of important questions regarding compensatory services for students with disabilities and plans to address those in a separate guidance document.” A brief summary of the other answers follows.

To start, yes, public schools still have to comply with Section 504 (was there any doubt?). Given that obligation, when schools are operating remotely, students are still entitled to FAPE and Section 504 teams and IEP teams need to make individualized determinations about whether adjustments are needed in this new model. This guidance echoes what the Department has said since early in the pandemic. The Q&A also reiterates that remote learning services must be provided in a way that is accessible to students with disabilities (accommodations like captioning on videos and audio versions of written text).


Continue Reading New OCR Q&A Reiterates Guidance, Promises Additional Guidance on Compensatory Services to Come

A recent OCR decision out of Wyoming is a reminder to school districts of their Child Find obligations—including during remote instruction. In Teton County School District, Wyoming, OCR found in favor of the school district who responded to a doctor’s note diagnosing anxiety and depression with immediate supports and initiating an evaluation. The case illustrates the perils of informal communication about disabilities but confirms that not every reference to a disability triggers the obligation to evaluate.

In the Wyoming case, there were several red flags that unfolded for school personnel.


Continue Reading OCR Decision Highlights Common Child Find Red Flags

In the final weeks of the Trump administration, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) initiated “proactive investigations” against Seattle Public Schools and the Indiana Department of Education related to special education services during the pandemic. You’ll recall that since the early days of COVID-19 and the first school shut-downs, the Department of Education has maintained that, while the methodology may change, the obligation to provide a free and appropriate public education to students with IEPs and 504 plans remains intact. In October, OCR and the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) reiterated that position in two FAQ documents. These new investigations, opened as the Trump administration was headed out the door, were based on “disturbing reports” in local news media. The investigations aim to determine if Seattle Public Schools and the Indiana Department of Education have met federal requirements to provide appropriate and individualized instruction to students with disabilities during the pandemic.

Continue Reading Outgoing OCR Opens Investigations Into Special Education Services During Remote Learning

In a July 2019 briefing report, the United States Commission on Civil Rights warned that students of color with disabilities face exclusionary discipline, like suspensions and expulsions, at much higher rates than their peers without disabilities. What is the Commission, what were its findings and recommendations, and what do they mean for your school or school district?
Continue Reading Discipline, Special Education, and Race: Key Takeaways From Civil Rights Commission Report  

Most of the cases the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) handles involve disability discrimination, including claims that a school failed to implement an IEP or Section 504 plan. In our experience, however, OCR is often an afterthought for school employees who work in the field, and when OCR comes knocking school leaders often feel unprepared. Read on for five tips to help you feel more confident the next time you receive notice of an OCR complaint.
Continue Reading Back to Basics: OCR is at the Door – Five Steps to Mount Your Best Defense

Where do you draw the line between pre-IEP-meeting preparation, which the law allows, and “predetermination” prior to the meeting, which can get schools into hot water? This was one topic discussed during our recent Franczek webinar, IEP Season is Coming . . . Are You Ready?, which included a “top 10” list of issues to keep in mind heading into the IEP season. We encourage you to watch the 30-minute webinar, which is available on demand on our website, but want to dig in on one issue raised in it: A major mistake that can turn permissive pre-IEP-meeting planning into prohibited predetermination. What is it? How do you avoid the risk? Read on!
Continue Reading This One Mistake Can Turn Pre-IEP-Meeting Planning into Prohibited Predetermination