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The Relationship Between IDEA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act

A federal appeals court ruled today that remedies available under the main federal special education law do not limit parents from also pursuing claims under a broader federal law barring discrimination against people with disabilities.

"The availability of relief under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act does not limit the availability of a damages remedy under" U.S. Department of Education regulations for Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, in San Francisco, said in a unanimous ruling.

In a case from Hawaii, the court held that the requirements for a "free, appropriate public education" in both IDEA and the Rehabilitation Act regulations are "overlapping but different."

The IDEA focuses on the provision of appropriate education services to children with disabilities. The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that more broadly addresses state services to people with disabilities. Section 504, the Rehabilitation Act's central provision barring discrimination against people with disabilities, applies to all public schools that receive federal funds.

The appeals court overturned a 2005 federal district court ruling that had said "there are no rights, procedures, or remedies available under Section 504 for violations of IDEA's affirmative obligations" and that the federal Education Department's Section 504 regulations are not enforceable through private lawsuits.

The appeals panel returned a family's special education lawsuit against the Hawaii public school system to the district court for further consideration.

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