Ed Dept: Common medical conditions have disability protections
The U.S. Department of Education on Feb. 20 released four new resources to help students with disabilities, their families and schools understand the civil rights protections guaranteed to students with asthma, diabetes, food allergies, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or gastroesophageal reflux (GER).
The resources explain how these medical conditions can impact a student's school experience, how the conditions could require protections for students under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the options for parents and students if they believe schools aren't meeting their federal legal obligations.
Additionally, the Education Department shared updated statistics showing there were 8.4 million students with disabilities who comprised 17% of the nation's pre-K-12 student population in 2020-21. About 3%, or 1.6 million, of the total student population were students with disabilities who received supports and services under only Section 504 that school year.
The documents remind K-12 schools and colleges of their federal legal responsibilities to provide accommodations, if needed, to students with these common medical conditions. For example, one of the resources noted that students with asthma may need to be excused from activities that risk triggering an asthma attack. If schools have not made this accommodation, they might have to correct student records regarding unexcused absences.
Section 504 prohibits discrimination against students with disabilities by schools that get federal funding, which includes almost all public K-12 schools and universities in addition to private higher education institutions.
At the higher education level, students with disabilities accounted for 21% of undergraduates and 11% of post baccalaureate students during the 2019-20 school year, according to the Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics.
“We issued these new resources to give students, including those with asthma, diabetes, food allergies, and GERD, as well as their families and schools, important tools to understand when and how they are protected by federal disability rights laws,” said Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine Lhamon, in a statement.
Updated statistics from the Education Department's Civil Rights Data Collection show ongoing disproportionate rates of discipline against students with disabilities. For example, while students with disabilities served under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act represented 14% of the overall student population in 2020-21, they accounted for 81% of the students physically restrained, 75% of students secluded, and 24% of students receiving out of school suspensions that school year.
The Education Department is currently drafting proposed regulations for Section 504 that would be the first major update to the rules since 1977. Educators, parents and advocates have said they hope the proposed rules will clarify how student accommodations provided by schools under that law align or depart from the rights of students with disabilities under IDEA.
Updated rules are needed, the Education Department has said, to align with the Biden administration's goal of advancing equity for persons with disabilities. The department also wants to address barriers to access in schools for students with disabilities and update outdated language in the current regulations.
The proposed rules were originally expected to be released by May 2023 and then by November 2023. Even after several delays, however, the proposed rules still aren't ready.