Federal Legal Requirements: Meeting the Communication Needs of Students with Disabilities

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New guidance on the rights of students with hearing, vision, or speech disabilities.

Students with disabilities, like all students, must be provided the opportunity to fully participate in our public schools.

A critical aspect of participation is communication with others.

November 12, 2014: U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights and Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services issued Joint Guidance (Letter to Educators) about the rights of public elementary and secondary students with hearing, vision, or speech disabilities to effective communication.

Public schools are responsible for ensuring that communication with students who have hearing, vision, or speech disabilities is as effective as communication with all other students.

Three Federal laws address the obligations of all public schools to meet the communication needs of students with disabilities.

  • IDEA requires that schools make available a free appropriate public education (FAPE), consisting of special education and related services, to eligible children with disabilities (including communication needs).
  • Title II requires schools to ensure that students with disabilities receive communication that is as effective as communication with others through the provision of appropriate auxiliary aids and services.
  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) requires schools to provide FAPE to a student with a disability.

Public schools must apply both IDEA and Title II requirements for effective communication when meeting the communication needs of students with a hearing, vision, or speech disability who are eligible for an IEP. (Compliance with IDEA can satisfy Section 504’s requirements to provide FAPE.)

This could mean that in some cases, as well as a program spelled out in a child’s IEP, the school may have to provide auxiliary aids or services under Title II that are not required under IDEA.

See K.M v. Tustin Unified School District. The Ninth Circuit addressed IDEA and Title II effective communication obligations.

In response – The Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA) says the new guidance “misses the mark!”

US DOE and DOJ Guidance On Communication Misses the Mark

K.M. v. Tustin Unified School District victory could help thousands of students yet new guidance doesn’t quite go far enough.”

As COPAA noted “in its amicus brief in this case — public policy mandates affording children with disabilities the full benefit that all three statutes convey, not just the floor provided by one of them.”

DOE Guidance: Frequently Asked Questions on Effective Communication for Students with Hearing, Vision, or Speech Disabilities in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools

The FAQ document is intended to help schools understand and comply with federal legal requirements on meeting the communication needs of students with disabilities.

DOE also released a Fact Sheet for Parents available in both English and Spanish.

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