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Feds Receive Record Number of Complaints About Special Education

A new report from the U.S. Department of Education's office for civil rights says that, from 2009 to 2011, the agency received more complaints about disability issues than ever before in a three-year period.

During that time, 55 percent of the total number of complaints the civil rights office received had to do with disabilities. To put that number in context, consider that OCR enforces civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination in a host of other areas, including race, national origin, sex, and age.

The report out this month also drills down to what specific areas within disability rights were inquired about most often.

Topping the list was the issue of a free, appropriate public education, or FAPE as those with some special education knowledge will know. Nearly 4,700 complaints of the 11,700 received regarding disabilities had something to do with FAPE. The office for civil rights also launched 15 investigations around the country related to FAPE.

Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, an appropriate education is defined as regular or special education and related aids and services that meet the educational needs of students with disabilities as adequately as students without disabilities are being served. And that education should take place in as integrated a setting as possible. OCR also enforces rights afforded by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Of the remaining complaints, complaints about retaliation numbered nearly 2,200. And more than 1,500 had to do with academic adjustments for students with disabilities, nearly 1,800 were about the exclusion or denial of benefits, and close to 1,100 dealt with disability harassment.

OCR said it also launched 30 investigations regarding other disability issues. This one in New Jersey, resolved very recently, was one of them.

Among the other cases OCR addressed:


  • In another case, OCR worked with a district that required parents to get medical documentation, at their own expense, supporting the existence of disabilities for their children. The district also required parents to show that their children were being discriminated against before it would conduct an evaluation for disabilities. Now the district is revising and training staff on its referral procedures and forms and reimbursing parents who had paid for evaluations.

  • At a charter school, OCR found that it had failed to properly evaluate whether a 6th grade transfer student with a severe, potentially life-threatening peanut allergy to determine if she had a disability. The school committed to evaluating the student to determine if she had a disability and, if so, developing a Section 504 plan so she could safely attend school.

  • Several investigations still open have to do with whether minority students are being inappropriately and disproportionately categorized as mentally retarded, emotionally disturbed, or learning disabled.

Hat tip to Disability Scoop for bringing this report to my attention.

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