On 39th Anniversary of 504 OCR Issues "Disability Rights Enforcement Highlights"

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     On the 39th Anniversary of the passage of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) within the U.S. Department of Education has published Disability Rights Enforcement Highlights. This 21 page publication provides a good overview of OCR's role in protecting the rights of students with disabilities under Section 504 and Title II of the ADA. It discusses what is a disability, the IDEA and 504, and focuses on the following seven different issue areas: Free appropriate public education, discipline, academic adjustments, accessibiltiy of technology, physical accessibility of programs services & facilities, harassment/bullying, and right to equal treatment.

     The booklet provides specific case examples in each of these issue areas and provides interesting statistical data regarding OCR's work. For example, in the fiscal years 2009 through 2011, OCR received over 11,700 disability-related complaints. This is more than ever before in a three-year period. Moreover, while OCR also investigates complaints based on discrimination due to race, color, national origin, sex, and age, more than 55% of the complaints OCR received in this three-year period involved disability issues. Looking at some of the specific issue areas: 4,600 cases involved a denial of a free appropriate public education, 750 involved Discipline issues, and 1,000 complaints were based on Disability Harassment. Moreover, the Office for Civil Rights noted that students served under the IDEA were twice as likely to be suspended out of school as their classmates without disabilities.

      Again, the OCR provides specific case examples in each of these issue areas. The booklet provides the following sad case example regarding disability harassment. A high school student with Fragile X Syndrome, Asperger's Syndrome, Tourette's Syndrome and ADHD was verbally ridiculed be her fellow students about her disability-related body odor, sprayed with an air freshener by staff in front of her classmates, detained by staff in school who made her take showers before allowing her to attend class, and pulled out of class and sent home before the end of the school day because of her body odor. After OCR's involvement, the school agreed to provide training to staff about 504 and the student's disabilities, enroll the student in its "Senior Life Skill"s course, provide her with weekly social work services, and help her find a community job.

     As noted earlier, this publication provides similar specific case examples in each of the issue areas.  I commend this booklet to you. I think it will help clarify the vital role OCR plays in protecting the rights of students with disabilities.