Feds send warning on special education requirements

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The U.S. Department of Education sent a letter to state education leaders and school district leaders nationwide January 19, reminding them of their obligations to provide services to students who may not have qualified as having a disability prior to the 2008 amendment of the Individual with Disabilities Education Act.

“(The Department is) strengthening our efforts to ensure that all students, including those with disabilities, have the tools they need to benefit from a world-class education that prepares them for success in college and careers,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in the letter.

The 2008 amendment broadened the definition of disability.

The expanded definition includes disabilities that occur intermittently, such as bipolar disorder. It also requires schools not to look at mitigating measures (other than ordinary eyeglasses or contact lenses) for determining whether students, in fact, have a disability.

The amendments also broadened the definition of “major life activities.” Under the IDEA, a student qualifies as having a disability, regardless of if they are performing well in school, if their disabilities “substantially limits a major life activity.”

“Measurable progress has been made, but more can be done,” the Department of Education stated in the letter. “(The Office of Civil Rights) will continue to work to eliminate disability discrimination in public elementary, secondary, and postsecondary schools by investigating complaints, conducting compliance reviews, issuing policy guidance, providing technical assistance, and working closely with the Department of Justice.”

The IDEA, passed in 1975, is the nation’s preeminent law barring discrimination against children with disabilities in public schools.