Advanced placement and disabled students: U.S. Department of Education guidance

In a December 26, 2007 "Dear Colleague" letter, the U.S. Department of Education addressed "an issue involving students with disabilities seeking enrollment in challenging academic programs, such as Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes or programs (accelerated programs)."  The letter would be applicable to any covered entity.

Apparently, some schools refuse to allow qualified disabled students the right to participate in such programs or require the student’s to forego some other right. These actions, said the Department, "are inconsistent with Federal law, and the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in the U.S. Department of Education will continue to act promptly to remedy such violations where they occur."

OCR notes that "[i]t is unlawful to deny a student with a disability admission to an accelerated class or program solely because of that student’s need for special education or related aids and services, or because that student has an IEP or a plan under Section 504." (Footnote omitted.)

[I]f 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.  For example, if a student’s IEP or plan under Section 504 provides for Braille materials in order to participate in the regular education program and she enrolls in an accelerated or advanced history class, then she also must receive Braille materials for that class.  The same would be true for other needed related aids and services such as extended time on tests or the use of a computer to take notes.

Schools are not, however, required to admit a student who happens to have a disability to advanced courses if the student is not otherwise qualified for the program. But the qualification requirements must be proper and not, among other things, tend to disqualify a student because of a disability. The example above of a visually impaired student is illustrative: being able to visually read text would probably not be a proper qualification. Having certain background or prerequisite knowledge probably would be proper.

Although OCR’s jurisdiction falls under Section 504 and the Americans With Disabilities Act, the letter notes that the advice is issued after consulting with the Office of Special Education Programs, which oversees the IDEA. OCR offers technical assistance to schools interesting in improving their programs. The guidance contains contact information.

 As with all things involving disabilities and education, each decision must be individualized. And ultimately, the rationale behind any decision must be clearly articulable, proper, and objective in order to be convincingly proper and defensible.

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Jim B. - September 19, 2009 6:40 PM

What are the implications of the reverse happening, as in the case of a school that only provides Advanced Placement history for a particular grade.... thereby placing disabled students in those classes without regard as to the appropriateness of that setting for them?

MJ - December 10, 2009 12:28 AM

Would this also apply to "early college" programs. I have a son who is enrolled in a full-time off-campus early college program. He needs special education. However, we are now given a choice ... he must make sure his classes don't interfere with the times the school wants to work with him or give up the program. The school runs on a four day a week program that runs from 7:15am-3:15pm. My son does not operate well before 9am and has previously had all classes, even when in the local school, start at 9am. His college classes start at 9am and continue until 1pm. He then has lunch and it takes time to get him to the school where he is to obtain his special education services. The teacher hasn't been available to serve him in the afternoons, only the mornings. For one class he is not available all day (on Thursdays). The school's chosen limited schedule combined with his desire to attend the early college program is limiting his access to needed services. (My other children attend school 5 days per week, and it starts at 9am.) I'd love some feedback.

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