A r c h i v e d   I n f o r m a t i o n

Applying Federal Civil Rights Laws
to Public Charter Schools

Educating Students
with Disabilities

Some children arrive at school with disabilities that affect their participation in the educational program. Sometimes, these disabilities are known; sometimes they remain hidden until a parent or teacher raises a concern. The challenge for all public schools is to identify children with disabilities, assess their individual needs, and provide appropriate educational services without undue delay.

23. What civil rights requirements apply to my charter school for the education of students with disabilities?

Under Section 504 and Title II, students with disabilities enrolled in public schools, including your charter school, are entitled to a free appropriate public education (FAPE). The Section 504 regulation includes several substantive and procedural requirements regarding the provision of FAPE. Among these requirements is that a student with a disability must receive appropriate regular or special education and related aids and services. The requirement is designed so that the individual educational needs of the disabled student are met as adequately as the needs of nondisabled students.

24. Are there federal funds available to help me meet my obligation to educate students with disabilities?

Yes. Your charter school might benefit from federal funds available under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The IDEA is a federal law that provides funds to SEAs, and through them to LEAs, to help schools serve students with disabilities. There are specific requirements of the IDEA that you must meet in order to receive these federal funds. Contact your SEA to find out if these funds are available to you.

Like Section 504 and Title II, the IDEA has FAPE requirements. In general, if you satisfy the FAPE requirements under the IDEA, then you will be in compliance with the FAPE requirements of Section 504 and Title II. The IDEA, which has distinct requirements that are not discussed in detail in this publication, is administered by ED’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS).

    For further information on the IDEA and its requirements, contact OSERS’ Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) at 202-205-5507; or visit OSEP’s World Wide Web site.

25. Are there additional ways to help me meet my obligations under Section 504 and Title II?

Yes. In addition to providing federal funds to eligible entities, the IDEA allows a state the flexibility to designate some other entity as responsible for ensuring that the requirements of the IDEA are met for children with disabilities enrolled in public schools. Where you are meeting your charter school’s Section 504 and Title II FAPE responsibilities through compliance with IDEA requirements, the IDEA’s flexibility could help you meet your charter school’s Section 504 and Title II FAPE responsibilities. Generally, if a state designates another entity as responsible for ensuring that all of the IDEA requirements are met for eligible disabled children enrolled in a particular charter school, that designated entity would ensure that FAPE is provided to each of those students, generally at the charter school site.

    Contact your SEA to learn whether your state makes this flexibility available to your charter school.

26. Could a child be protected by Section 504 and Title II but not be eligible to receive services under the IDEA?

Yes. Some students with disabilities are protected by Section 504 and Title II, but are not eligible to receive services under the IDEA because they do not need special education. One example would be a child with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis who requires the periodic administration of medication during the school day, but who does not need any special education services. The child may have the right to FAPE under Section 504 and Title II, even though the child is not eligible for services under the IDEA.

    Under Section 504 and Title II, an individual with a disability is an individual who either has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities (such as learning), has a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment.

27. May I limit the participation of students with disabilities to certain aspects of my charter school’s program?

No. Consistent with civil rights requirements, students with disabilities must be provided a range of choices in programs and activities that is comparable to that offered to students without disabilities. This includes an opportunity to participate in a range of nonacademic or extracurricular programs and activities offered at your charter school.

28. Is a student with a disability required to be educated with students without disabilities?

A student with a disability must be educated with nondisabled students to the maximum extent appropriate for the disabled student. The education of students with disabilities must be designed to meet their individual needs. A student with a disability may be placed in a setting outside the regular classroom only if the regular educational environment – including using supplementary aids and services – cannot satisfactorily meet the student’s educational needs. The group making placement decisions is responsible for selecting the setting that satisfies these requirements.

    The Section 504 regulation requires that any placement decision be made by a group of persons, including persons knowledgeable about the child, the meaning of the evaluation data, and the placement options.

29. What do I need to do when a student enrolled in my charter school is believed to have a disability?

When a student is believed to have a disability, your charter school, like any public school, must initiate the procedures established by your SEA or by your LEA (if your charter school is a part of the LEA) to identify and refer the student for evaluation in a timely manner.

30. What other rights and responsibilities are included in the provision of FAPE regarding student identification, evaluation, and placement?

Under Section 504 and Title II, students with disabilities, and their parents or guardians, are entitled to due process from the LEA concerning student identification, evaluation, and placement. Simply stated, due process is procedural fairness. In the context of FAPE, due process includes notice, the opportunity for review of records, the right to request an impartial hearing with representation by counsel, and a procedure for review. In general, by complying with the relevant IDEA procedural-safeguard requirements, an LEA is complying with these Section 504 and Title II requirements.


[Educating Students Who Are Limited-English Proficient]