Special Education

What Do Schools Owe Students With Disabilities? Feds Plan to Update Regulations

By Evie Blad — May 06, 2022 2 min read
A boy writes at a desk in a classroom.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The U.S. Department of Education plans to update regulations on schools’ obligations under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, a major federal law that prohibits discrimination against students with disabilities.

The announcement comes as schools’ ability to meet the needs of students with disabilities during remote learning—and to make up for any progress lost due to lapses in services—have been a major focus during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Education Department announced its intent Friday to update the regulations, outlining the process for public comment 45 years after the regulations were first published.

“While the world has undergone enormous changes since 1977, the Department’s Section 504 regulations have remained, with few exceptions, unaltered,” Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine Lhamon said in a statement.

The agency did not specify what changes it would consider, but said in an announcement that it wanted to “strengthen and protect the rights” of students, incorporating the voices of people with disabilities in the process.

What this civil rights law requires

Section 504 is a civil rights law that requires schools to provide a free appropriate public education—or FAPE—to students with a broad range of physical, emotional, developmental, and intellectual disabilities, addressing their needs through individual plans that outline accommodations. Such accommodations could include additional time for tests, a change in classroom seating, modified homework assignments, or the use of special technologies to help students with processing issues.

Section 504 differs from the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, under which schools create individualized education programs that outline services for students with a more narrow list of disabilities that includes dyslexia, autism, and deafness or blindness. In many cases, students with disabilities are protected by both laws.

Advocates for students with disabilities and their families have said the process of securing accommodations at school can be difficult and confusing.

They’ve also complained that schools haven’t moved quickly enough to address the need for compensatory services—services that address lost progress during lapses in accommodations—as they enter pandemic recovery.

Plans to update the Section 504 regulations came a week after the Education Department announced a resolution with Los Angeles schools after if found fault with that district’s special education offerings during the pandemic and its plans to assess the need for compensatory services as part of its recovery. That agreement heartened advocates who’ve pushed for change.

Instructions for submitting comments on changes that could be made to Section 504 regulations are here.

Events

Special Education Webinar Reading, Dyslexia, and Equity: Best Practices for Addressing a Threefold Challenge
Learn about proven strategies for instruction and intervention that support students with dyslexia.
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.
Sponsor
Families & the Community Webinar
How Whole-Child Student Data Can Strengthen Family Connections
Learn how district leaders can use these actionable strategies to increase family engagement in their student’s education and boost their academic achievement.
Content provided by Panorama Education
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.
Sponsor
College & Workforce Readiness Webinar
The School to Workforce Gap: How Are Schools Setting Students Up For Life & Lifestyle Success?
Hear from education and business leaders on how schools are preparing students for their leap into the workforce.
Content provided by Find Your Grind

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 Unified Sports Level the Playing Field for Students With Disabilities
Interest is growing in unified sports, where students with and without intellectual disabilities can play and compete together.
7 min read
Saratoga Springs High School Physical Education teacher, Colleen Belanger, left, instructs Hunter Fiorillo, during a Unified Physical Education class at Saratoga Springs High School in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022. "I've been teaching for a long time and this is one of the best things I've ever done," said Belanger of teaching Unified P.E.
Saratoga Springs High School physical education teacher Colleen Belanger, left, instructs Hunter Fiorillo, during a unified physical education class at Saratoga Springs High School in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022. "I've been teaching for a long time and this is one of the best things I've ever done," said Belanger of the unified class.
Heather Ainsworth for Education Week
Special Education Students With Disabilities Urge Smoother Transition to College
Legislation would simplify the process for students with disabilities to continue getting accommodations when they head to college.
4 min read
College students blurred and moving around a white male sitting at desk in a college classroom
Chris Ryan/Getty
Special Education States Are Desperate for Special Ed. Teachers. But They Can't Cut Corners to Get Them
The Education Department warns states not to lower standards, even as districts frantically search for skilled special educators.
8 min read
Special education teacher assisting a diverse group of elementary students in art class.
E+/Getty
Special Education There's Little Data on the Pandemic's Effect on Students With Disabilities. That's a Big Problem
New report cites "urgent need" for more and better research to help schools identify where to target resources.
4 min read
Timothy Allison, a collaborative special education teacher in Birmingham, Ala., works with a student at Sun Valley Elementary School on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2022. The school district is struggling to fill around 50 teaching spots, including 15 in special education, despite $10,000 signing bonuses for special education teachers.
Timothy Allison, a collaborative special education teacher in Birmingham, Ala., works with a student at Sun Valley Elementary School in September.
Jay Reeves/AP