On February 20, 2024, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) released four new resources with information for students, parents and families, and schools addressing civil rights of students with disabilities, as well as a data snapshot about education access for students with disabilities drawn from OCR’s 2020-21 Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC).
OCR issued these new resources to inform students with disabilities, and their families and schools, about their legal rights under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Section 504 prohibits discrimination against students with disabilities by institutions that accept federal financial assistance, which includes almost all public schools and public and private institutions of higher education.
“We issued these new resources to give students, including those with asthma, diabetes, food allergies, and GERD, as well as their families and schools, important tools to understand when and how they are protected by federal disability rights laws,” said Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon.
OCR’s new CRDC data snapshot reports that 8.4 million students with disabilities accounted for 17% of the overall public school enrollment in the 2020-21 school year, the most recent school year for which the Department has civil rights data. Three percent (1.6 million) of the overall student enrollment were students with disabilities who received educational aids and services under Section 504 only.
The Department’s National Center for Education Statistics estimates that students with disabilities accounted for 21% of undergraduates and 11% of postbaccalaureate students in the 2019-20 school year.
The four new resources address common medical conditions that can be disabilities for purposes of Section 504: asthma, diabetes, food allergies, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). These resources, which are applicable to all levels of education, explain when these medical conditions trigger protections under Section 504, what kind of modifications an educational institution may need to take to avoid unlawful discrimination, and what an institution may need to do to remedy past discrimination.
OCR also released a new CRDC data snapshot profiling educational opportunities provided to public school students with disabilities during the 2020-21 school year. It reflects troubling differences in the experiences of students with disabilities compared to their non-disabled peers. For example, higher percentages of students with disabilities were physically restrained or secluded than students without disabilities.
Students with disabilities were also overrepresented in disciplinary actions when compared to their total student enrollment. And students with disabilities were underrepresented in Advanced Placement courses, gifted and talented programs, and dual enrollment or dual credit programs.
The new resources regarding asthma, diabetes, food allergies, and GERD are available on the OCR website. The new CRDC disability snapshot, and other CRDC data reports and snapshots, are available on the CRDC website.