Special Education

School Boards Group Disputes Recent Guidance on Communication Supports

By Christina A. Samuels — March 10, 2015 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The National School Boards Association says that the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice offered sweeping and confusing guidance to states when they issued a “Dear Colleague” letter back in November that described how schools must meet students’ communication needs.

In a March 5 letter, the organization asked that certain elements of the guidance be clarified, and that the federal departments should not use an appeals court decision that the NSBA calls an “outlier” as the foundation for a national standard.

The issue dates back to August 2013, when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in San Francisco ruled in K.M. v Tustin Unified School District that schools must follow two laws—the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act—when devising ways to support students with vision, hearing, or speech impairments.

The case came about when two California students with hearing impairments asked their school districts for real-time transcription of class discussions. The districts refused to do so, saying that the students were making good academic progress without the service. The appeals court ruled that just because a district was following the provisions of the IDEA doesn’t rule out the possibility that it could be violating the ADA, an anti-discrimination law enacted in 1990. (The Justice Department had filed a friend-of-the-court brief in this case, on the side of the students.)

Under the ADA, entities such as schools must “ensure that communication with students with disabilities is as effective as communication with students without disabilities, giving primary consideration to students and parents in determining which auxiliary aids and services are necessary to provide such effective communication.” The department’s “Dear Colleague” letter and accompanying documents spell out how schools can navigate the two different requirements.

Overall, the guidance tells schools that in some cases, the ADA may require a school district to provide a service that the IDEA does not, and that parents and students must be given deference in deciding what those services should be. In contrast, the IDEA requires that parents and school staff decide on services collaboratively, through the creation of an individualized education program.

Points of Contention

That two-pronged decision-making process may be true for the schools in states served under the 9th Circuit, the NSBA said. (Those states are Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.) However, courts in other parts of the country have come to different conclusions, the NSBA says, asking the department to explain the legal justification for expanding this ruling to the whole country.

Giving students and parents primary say over what communications aids are needed also disrupts the collaborative process intended by the creation of an IEP, the NSBA asserts.

Plus, requiring districts to conform to two different laws is challenging and could potentially spawn lawsuits, the school board organization states. For example, the November guidance said that complying with the ADA and IDEA “would, in most cases, not result in undue financial and administrative burdens.” NSBA asked for the basis of that statement, quoting as an example the price of real-time transcription services at $60 to $200 per hour.

Finally, the letter tweaked the agencies for releasing guidance without getting public comment.

“The departments risk producing well-meaning, but ill-informed expressions of policy that place unnecessary and onerous burdens on regulated entities, such as school districts, without significantly advancing the underlying goals of the statutes on which they are ostensibly premised,” wrote Francisco M. Negron Jr., the NSBA’s general counsel.

A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.

Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Evaluating Equity to Drive District-Wide Action this School Year
Educational leaders are charged with ensuring all students receive equitable access to a high-quality education. Yet equity is more than an action. It is a lens through which we continuously review instructional practices and student
Content provided by BetterLesson
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Attendance Awareness Month: The Research Behind Effective Interventions
More than a year has passed since American schools were abruptly closed to halt the spread of COVID-19. Many children have been out of regular school for most, or even all, of that time. Some
Content provided by AllHere

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Special Education Opinion Inclusive Teachers Must Be 'Asset-Based Believers'
Four veteran educators share tips on supporting students with learning differences as they return to classrooms during this pandemic year.
16 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
Special Education Opinion 20 Ways to Support Students With Learning Differences This Year
Embed student voices and perspectives into the classroom is one piece of advice educators offer in this third pandemic-affected school year.
16 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
Special Education Schools Must Identify Students With Disabilities Despite Pandemic Hurdles, Ed. Dept. Says
Guidance stresses schools' responsibilities to those with disabilities, while noting that federal COVID aid can be used to address backlogs.
2 min read
School children in classroom with teacher, wearing face masks and raised hands
Special Education Attention Deficit Rates Skyrocket in High School. Mentoring Could Prevent an Academic Freefall
Twice as many students are diagnosed with ADHD in high school as in elementary school, yet their supports are fewer, a study says.
4 min read
Image of a child writing the letters "ADHD" on a chalkboard.