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Section 504 Protection Usually Does Not Apply to Private Schools

The question of Whether school districts must provide services under Section 504 of the federal Rehabilitation Act to students in private schools is being debated in court, as I wrote last week.

But in the view of the federal Education Department, there's little to argue.

In a case now working its way through the appeals court system, parents of a Baltimore boy want their son to be provided with services from the school district in the city, even though he attends a private school. Their son has ADHD and an anxiety disorder. An administrative law judge and lower court have already sided with the district. The parents have appealed. The National School Boards Association has written a brief supporting the school district.

While the Education Department can't comment on a pending case, the agency did talk to me about the protections afforded by Section 504 in general. (What that protection means depends on the student.)

A spokesman notes that Section 504 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability by schools that receive federal financial assistance. Protection under this law is afforded to people at an institution that gets federal education funds

"Educational entities that are not recipients of federal financial assistance are not subject to the requirements of Section 504, thus, unless a private school receives federal financial assistance, it would not be considered a 'recipient' and the requirements of Section 504 would not apply directly to those schools," the agency said.

He went on to say that "It has been the department's longstanding policy that private schools whose students or teachers participate in federally assisted programs conducted by a local school district are not grant recipients and are not directly subject to the federal civil rights requirements."

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