(2016, December) | Useful to Parent Centers for sharing with staff, students with disabilities, families, schools, and other stakeholders.

On December 28, 2016, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) at U.S. Department of Education released a set of guidance resources on the rights of students with disabilities in public charter schools under Section 504 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The set of resources includes:

  • a jointly-issued Dear Colleague Letter,
  • several question-and-answer documents, and
  • a Know Your Rights fact sheet.

These documents (described further below) provide information about how to provide equal opportunity in compliance with Section 504 in key areas such as:

  • charter school recruitment,
  • application,
  • admission,
  • enrollment and disenrollment,
  • accessibility of facilities and programs, and
  • nonacademic and extracurricular activities.

The Section 504 Charter guidance:

  • Explains that charter school students with disabilities (and those seeking to attend) have the same rights under Section 504 and Title II of the ADA as other public school students with disabilities.
  • Details the Section 504 right to nondiscrimination in recruitment, application, and admission to charter schools.
  • Clarifies that during the admission process a charter school generally may not ask a prospective student if he or she has a disability.
  • Reminds charter schools, other entities, and parents that charter school students with disabilities have the right to a free appropriate public education (FAPE) under Section 504.

The  41-page Section 504 Charter guidance is available online in a PDF format (570 kb), at:
https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/dcl-faq-201612-504-charter-school.pdf

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The IDEA Charter guidance:

  • Emphasizes that children with disabilities who attend charter schools and their parents retain all rights and protections under Part B of IDEA (such as FAPE) just as they would at other public schools.
  • Provides that under IDEA a charter school may not unilaterally limit the services that must be provided a particular student with a disability.
  • Reminds schools that the least restrictive environment provisions require that, to the maximum extent appropriate, students with disabilities attending public schools, including public charter schools, be educated with students who are nondisabled.
  • Clarifies that students with disabilities attending charter schools retain all IDEA rights and protections included in the IDEA discipline procedures.

The 32-page IDEA Charter guidance is available online in a PDF format (562 kb), at:
https://www2.ed.gov/policy/speced/guid/idea/memosdcltrs/faq-idea-charter-school.pdf

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Know Your Rights Fact Sheet
In addition to the above documents, the Department also released a Know Your Rights document designed for parents to provide a brief overview of the rights of public charter school students with disabilities and the legal obligations of charter schools under Section 504 and the IDEA. The 3-page fact sheet is available online in a PDF format (92 kb) at:
https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/dcl-factsheet-201612-504-charter-school.pdf

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Additional Note
The documents are responsive to the U.S. Government Accountability Office’s 2012 report (in PDF, 937 kb) Charter Schools: Additional Federal Attention Needed to Help Protect Access for Students with Disabilities, which included the recommendation that the Department issue updated guidance on the obligations of charter schools.

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