Special Education Federal File

Disabilities No Bar to Higher Classes, OCR Tells Schools

By Christina A. Samuels — January 04, 2008 1 min read
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The Department of Education’s office for civil rights has written to school district leaders, reminding them that students with disabilities are eligible to take part in advanced academic programs and do not forfeit their right to special education services by enrolling in such classes.

The Dec. 26 “Dear Colleague” letter refers to students with disabilities who want to enroll in Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, or other accelerated classes.

Without citing specifics, the OCR says that some schools and districts have refused to allow qualified students with disabilities to enroll in advanced classes. In other cases, students have been allowed to enroll as long as they give up services designed to meet their needs under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Such conditions violate federal law, which requires individual determinations of student needs, said Stephanie J. Monroe, the Education Department’s assistant secretary for civil rights.

The letter adds that “if a qualified student with a disability requires related aids and services to participate in a regular education class or program, then a school cannot deny that student the needed related aids and services in an accelerated class or program.”

Department spokesman Jim Bradshaw said the letter was issued in response to informal technical-assistance requests and complaints.

Some educators may be unaware that gifted students may also have learning disabilities, but that mind-set is changing, said Susan K. Johnsen, the president of the Association for the Gifted, a division of the Council for Exceptional Children, located in Arlington, Va.

The special education community is much more sensitive to students with disabilities who may be able to handle accelerated work, said Ms. Johnsen, who is also a professor in the department of educational psychology at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.

The Education Department’s letter helps make such knowledge “explicit, rather than assuming everyone knows it,” she said.

A version of this article appeared in the January 09, 2008 edition of Education Week

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