HHS Issues New Proposed Rule to Strengthen Prohibitions Against Discrimination on the Basis of a Disability in Health Care and Human Services Programs (September 21, 2023)

50 years after its being enacted, significant updates are being made to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act to advance equity and bolster protections for people with disabilities.

In fact, on September 7, 2023 the Biden-Harris Administration took further action on its commitment to promote access to health care and human services for persons with disabilities as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through its Office for Civil Rights (OCR), announced a proposed rule that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability.  The rule, Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability in Programs or Activities Receiving Federal Financial Assistance, updates critical provisions that help persons with disabilities access health and human services under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.  The rule, originally published in 1977, advances the promise of the Rehabilitation Act and helps to ensure that people with disabilities are not subjected to discrimination in any program or activity receiving funding from HHS just because they have a disability. 

Section 504 prohibits discrimination against otherwise qualified individuals on the basis of disability in programs and activities that receive Federal financial assistance or are conducted by a Federal agency. Since the law was enacted, major legislative and judicial developments have shifted the legal landscape of disability discrimination under Section 504.

HHS is proposing to amend the regulations to update them and clarify obligations in several crucial areas not explicitly addressed in the current regulations, and to improve consistency with the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act, amendments to the Rehabilitation Act, and significant case law.

This Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) clarifies the application of Section 504 to several critical areas. The proposed rule:
-Ensures that medical treatment decisions are not based on biases or stereotypes about individuals with disabilities, judgments that an individual will be a burden on others, or beliefs that the life of an individual with a disability has less value than the life of a person without a disability;
-Clarifies obligations for web, mobile, and kiosk accessibility;
-Establishes enforceable standards for accessible medical equipment;
-Clarifies requirements in HHS-funded child welfare programs and activities;
-Prohibits the use of value assessment methods that place a lower value on life-extension for individuals with disabilities when that method is used to limit access or to deny aids, benefits, and services.
-Clarifies obligations to provide services in the most integrated setting appropriate to the needs of individuals with disabilities.

While the HHS is undertaking this rulemaking the current regulation is in effect. If you believe that you or another party has been discriminated against on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability, visit the OCR complaint portal to file a complaint online at: https://www.hhs.gov/civil-rights/filing-a-complaint/index.html.

HHS encourages all stakeholders to submit comments through regulations.gov.

Public comments on the NPRM are due 60 days after publication of the NPRM in the Federal Register. The NPRM may be viewed or downloaded at the Federal Register: https://www.federalregister.gov/public-inspection/2023-19149/discrimination-on-the-basis-of-disability-in-health-and-human-service-programs-or-activities.

A fact sheet on the NPRM is available at: https://www.hhs.gov/civil-rights/for-individuals/disability/section-504-rehabilitation-act-of-1973/fact-sheet/index.html.

The Fact Sheet is available in the following languages:
Español (Spanish)
繁體中文 (Chinese – Traditional)
简体中文 (Chinese – Simplified)
Tiếng Việt (Vietnamese)
한국어 (Korean)
Tagalog (Filipino)
Русский (Russian)
Portuguese (Brazilian)
Français (French)
Kreyòl Ayisyen (Haitian Creole)
Polski (Polish)
日本語 (Japaneses)

For more information visit: https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2023/09/07/hhs-issues-new-proposed-rule-to-strengthen-prohibitions-against-discrimination-on-basis-of-disability-in-health-care-and-human-services-programs.html.

Proposed USDE Section 504 Revisions Delayed (September 21, 2023)

With regard to a much-anticipated development across the nation, the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) continues to delay its release of revised Section 504 regulations. It has been hoped that such revisions will clarify how student accommodations under Section 504 align or depart from the rights of students with disabilities under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

This would be first major Section 504 update since 1977.

The USDE has not publicly announced a new release timeline and the delay is expected to continue for several months, since the Office of Management and Budget dashboard shows the proposed rule is not yet under review.

Source: K-12 Dive

PA State Board of Ed. September Meeting Highlights Impactful Issues (September 13, 2023)

On Wednesday, September 13, 2023, the PA State Board of Education held its 376th meeting both in person and via virtual means. The meeting opened with a welcome to new Board members by Chairperson Karen Farmer White, which was followed by a report from Dr. Lee Williams on the Academic Standards/Chapter 4 Committee. Dr. Williams reported that the committee has held public meetings on updating standards that were presented to the Board in July 2023. She also said that other proposed Chapter 4 amendments include a shift of the PSSA Science tests to fourth grade. She also said that public testimony regarding Chapter 4 revisions has been obtained through hearings and in writing, and the deadline for the acceptance of any further testimony is the end of the month.

PA Ed. Sec. Khalid Mumin reported on PDE’s efforts to make visits throughout the state to promote education, STEAM programming, and to provide tech support to education entities. He also spoke about the $567M increase in the state’s education basic education funding (BEF) budget for 2023-24 and stated that PDE is awaiting the General Assembly passing bills to release funding. In addition, basic ed. funding meetings have begun across the state. He also highlighted the PA MASLOW program, which is a cross-agency partnership that aims to ensure that every student has access to postsecondary education through support and resources that help provide for their basic educational needs.

Deputy Ed. Sec. Dr. Kate Shaw then spoke of the state’s efforts to streamline the process to allow for swifter teacher certification. She also reported that 75% of CSPGs have been updated and that Chapter 354 focus groups will review questionnaire data obtained from LEAs.

Deputy Ed. Sec. Carrie Rowe informed the Board of new CTE Director Judd Pittman now being in place and talked about the state budget increases in the area of CTE. She also said that state assessment results will be released by the School Improvement Office in October, and a preliminary look at the data shows improved graduation rates from pre-pandemic levels, as well as slight improvement in all testing levels over last year. She was then joined by PDE BSE Director Carole Clancy to discuss the policy change whereby the commonwealth shall make FAPE available to a child with a disability eligible under IDEA until the student turns 22. Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, a child eligible under IDEA who attains the age of twenty-one (21) years may remain enrolled in their resident school district free of charge until their 22nd birthday.

Both Ms. Clancy and Dr. Mumin acknowledged the issues related to the timing and financial burdens felt by LEAs, but said that the state is legally obligated by federal law to make the change in eligibility for FAPE, particularly in light of at least 12 other states losing cases related such a change in policy. Ms. Clancy also stated that Acts 55 and 66 data supported such a change.

The next State Board of Ed. Meeting is scheduled for November 8-9, 2023.

PDH Receives $2 Million Federal Grant To Improve Student Health And Academic Achievement (September 10, 2023)

Students across the Commonwealth will benefit from a $2 million federal grant to implement the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child (WSCC) model. Funding will be awarded to the Pennsylvania Department of Health (PDH) and Erie’s Public Schools through 2028 to create a template that other schools can adopt. 

Establishing healthy behaviors during childhood is easier and more effective than trying to change unhealthy behaviors during adulthood. Schools play a critical role in promoting the health and safety of young people and helping them establish lifelong healthy behaviors. The WSCC model focuses on ten components that schools can emphasize as they see fit:

-Physical education and physical activity
-Nutrition environment and services
-Health education
-Social and emotional climate
-Physical environment
-Health services
-Counseling, psychological and social services
-Employee wellness
-Community involvement
-Family engagement 

In collaboration with several partners, PDH will offer statewide training, convene a statewide school health coalition, and support the implementation of WSCC in Erie’s Public Schools from 2023-2028. Erie was selected based on its size, demographics, and readiness to implement the program. Other districts will be able to take advantage of the free trainings and professional development opportunities that the grant will help develop and support.

Erie’s Public Schools will begin implementing the WSCC model in the 2023-2024 school year with the hiring of the district’s first wellness coordinator. Over the course of the next five school years, the district will revive its district wellness council, strengthen community partnerships, and annually assess and improve health policies, programs, practices, and curriculum in the areas of physical activity, school nutrition, school health services, and emotional well-being. PDH will collaborate with Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE), Division of Food and Nutrition Programs and Division of Instructional Quality; Slippery Rock University, School Wellness Education Program; Pennsylvania Society of Health and Physical Educators (SHAPE PA); Pennsylvania Intermediate Units (IU); University of Pittsburgh, Office of Child Development; Erie City School District; and, Deanna Philpott, School Wellness Consultant from PA School Wellness to implement the required grant strategies.