U.S. Department of Education Releases Guidance on Civil Rights of Students with Disabilities

Dear Colleague,

The U.S. Department of Education released three new sets of guidance today to assist the public in understanding how the Department interprets and enforces federal civil rights laws protecting the rights of students with disabilities. These guidance documents clarify the rights of students with disabilities and the responsibilities of educational institutions in ensuring that all students have the opportunity to learn.

The guidance released today includes a parent and educator resource guide; a Dear Colleague letter (DCL) and question and answer document on the use of restraint and seclusion in public schools; and a DCL and question and answer documents on the rights of students with disabilities in public charter schools.

The Parent and Educator Resource Guide to Section 504 in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools, issued by the Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), provides a broad overview of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504). The guidance describes school districts’ nondiscrimination responsibilities, including obligations to provide educational services to students with disabilities, and outlines the steps parents can take to ensure that their children secure all of the services they are entitled to receive.

Among other things, the Section 504 Parent and Educator Resource Guide:

  • Defines and provides examples to illustrate the meaning of key terms used in Section 504.
  • Highlights requirements of Section 504 in the area of public elementary and secondary education, including provisions related to the identification, evaluation, and placement of students with disabilities, and procedures for handling disputes and disagreements between parents and school districts.

The second guidance package released by OCR addresses the circumstances under which use of restraint or seclusion can result in discrimination against students with disabilities, in violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Department’s May 15, 2012, Restraint and Seclusion: Resource Document suggested best practices to prevent the use of restraint or seclusion, recommending that school districts never use physical restraint or seclusion for disciplinary purposes and never use mechanical restraint, and that trained school officials use physical restraint or seclusion only if a child’s behavior poses imminent danger of serious physical harm to self or others. The DCL and question and answer document released today offer additional information about the legal limitations on use of restraint or seclusion to assist school districts in meeting their obligations to students with disabilities.

The third guidance package released today was developed by OCR and the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS). The jointly-issued Dear Colleague Letter and question and answer documents will help update educators, parents, students, and other stakeholders to better understand the rights of students with disabilities in public charter schools under Section 504 and IDEA. These documents 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 documents are responsive to the U.S. Government Accountability Office’s 2012 report, 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.

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 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.

In addition to these 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.

Thank you,

U.S. Department of Education
Office for Civil Rights


Guidance Issued on How Schools Can Partner with Outside Organizations that Provide Single-Sex Programs under Title IX

U.S. Department of Education

Office of Communications & Outreach, Press Office   

400 Maryland Ave., S.W.

Washington, D.C. 20202                 



Dec. 15, 2015


Contact: Press Office

(202) 401-1576 or press@ed.gov



Guidance Issued on How Schools Can Partner with Outside Organizations that Provide Single-Sex Programs under Title IX


The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights today released guidance in the form of a Dear Colleague Letterdetailing schools’ responsibilities under Title IX when partnering with certain outside organizations that provide single-sex programs to a school district’s students. The letter explains the circumstances under which a school district may work lawfully with “voluntary youth service organizations” under Title IX.


“We know that outside organizations can be great resources for school districts trying to improve the quality and diversity of the educational opportunities they offer,” said Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon. “We hope this guidance provides schools with additional clarity on how to comply with Title IX’s requirement to provide equitable opportunities for students regardless of their sex, including, where the law allows it, while working with organizations that serve students of only one sex.”


Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in all education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance. The law generally bars school districts both from excluding students from educational opportunities based on their sex and from providing significant assistance to outside organizations that do so, but it allows schools to work with certain outside organizations that limit membership by sex.


The new guidance reminds schools that Title IX prohibits school districts from providing significant assistance – such as financial support, staff, equipment, and facilities – to any outside organization that discriminates on the basis of sex, unless Title IX excepts the organization from its reach.


The letter explains that Title IX does not apply to the membership practices of voluntary youth service organizations even when they receive significant assistance from a school district.


In order for an organization to qualify for this exemption, its membership must be voluntary, traditionally limited to members of one sex, and principally limited to persons under age 19. The organization also must facilitate public service opportunities for its members.


Finally, the letter clarifies that, even though Title IX allows a school to provide significant assistance to a voluntary youth service organization, the district still has a Title IX obligation to ensure that girls and boys have comparable educational opportunities overall.


OCR’s mission is to ensure equal access to education and promote educational excellence throughout the nation through the vigorous enforcement of civil rights. The office is responsible for enforcing federal civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination by educational institutions on the basis of disability, race, color, national origin, sex, and age, as well as the Boy Scouts of America Equal Access Act of 2001. For more about the office, click here.


More information about Title IX and other OCR guidance documents on Title IX issues can be found here.




Title IX — April 24, 2015 USDOE Office for Civil Rights Dear Colleague Letter

On Friday, April 24, 2015 the USDOE Office for Civil Rights released a Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) to school districts, colleges, and universities reminding them of their obligation to designate a Title IX coordinator. The Dear Colleague Letter is accompanied by a letter to Title IX coordinators that provides them with more information about their role and a Title IX resource guide that includes an overview of Title IX’s requirements with respect to several key issues.  The link is http://www2.ed.gov/policy/rights/guid/ocr/title-ix-coordinators.html


  • Dear Colleague Letter: Title IX Coordinators
  • Letter to Title IX Coordinators
  • Title IX Resource Guide

This is a very important set of emails. Please note these highlights from the DCL.


  • Your Title IX coordinator plays an essential role in helping you ensure that every person affected by the operations of your educational institution—including students, their parents or guardians, employees, and applicants for admission and employment—is aware of the legal rights Title IX affords and that your institution and its officials comply with their legal obligations under Title IX.
  • To be effective, a Title IX coordinator must have the full support of your institution. It is therefore critical that all institutions provide their Title IX coordinators with the appropriate authority and support necessary for them to carry out their duties and use their expertise to help their institutions comply with Title IX.
  • In our enforcement work, OCR has found that some of the most egregious and harmful Title IX violations occur when a recipient fails to designate a Title IX coordinator or when a Title IX coordinator has not been sufficiently trained or given the appropriate level of authority to oversee the recipient’s compliance with Title IX. By contrast, OCR has found that an effective Title IX coordinator often helps a recipient provide equal educational opportunities to all students.
  • Title IX does not categorically exclude particular employees from serving as Title IX coordinators. However, when designating a Title IX coordinator, a recipient should be careful to avoid designating an employee whose other job responsibilities may create a conflict of interest. For example, designating a disciplinary board member, general counsel, dean of students, superintendent, principal, or athletics director as the Title IX coordinator may pose a conflict of interest.
  • Although not required by Title IX, it may be a good practice for some recipients, particularly larger school districts, colleges, and universities, to designate multiple Title IX coordinators. For example, some recipients have found that designating a Title IX coordinator for each building, school, or campus provides students and staff with more familiarity with the Title IX coordinator. This familiarity may result in more effective training of the school community on their rights and obligations under Title IX and improved reporting of incidents under Title IX.
  • The Title IX coordinator is responsible for coordinating the recipient’s responses to all complaints involving possible sex discrimination.
  • Title IX makes it unlawful to retaliate against individuals—including Title IX coordinators—not just when they file a complaint alleging a violation of Title IX, but also when they participate in a Title IX investigation, hearing, or proceeding, or advocate for others’ Title IX rights.6 Title IX’s broad anti-retaliation provision protects Title IX coordinators from discrimination, intimidation, threats, and coercion for the purpose of interfering with the performance of their job responsibilities. A recipient, therefore, must not interfere with the Title IX coordinator’s participation in complaint investigations and monitoring of the recipient’s efforts to comply with and carry out its responsibilities under Title IX. Rather, a recipient should encourage its Title IX coordinator to help it comply with Title IX and promote gender equity in education.
  • Recipients must ensure that their Title IX coordinators are appropriately trained and possess comprehensive knowledge in all areas over which they have responsibility in order to effectively carry out those responsibilities, including the recipients’ policies and procedures on sex discrimination and all complaints raising Title IX issues throughout the institution.

Schools’ Civil Rights Obligations to English Learner Students and Limited English Proficient Parents

The U.S. Departments of Education (ED) and Justice (DOJ) released joint guidance reminding states, school districts and schools of their obligations under federal law to ensure that English learner students have equal access to a high-quality education and the opportunity to achieve their full academic potential.  The guidance, fact sheets, and other resources (including translated versions of the guidance and fact sheets) are available at http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/ellresources.html.


Schools’ Civil Rights Obligations to English Learner Students and Limited English Proficient Parents

The obligation not to discriminate based on race, color, or national origin requires public schools to take affirmative steps to ensure that limited English proficient (LEP) students, now more commonly known as known as English Learner (EL) students or English Language Learners (ELLs), can meaningfully participate in educational programs and services, and to communicate information to LEP parents in a language they can understand.

The following materials include information for students and parents, OCR guidance and resources for education officials about their obligations to EL students and LEP parents, and added resources with related information.

For Students and Parents

For Education Officials

OCR Policies

Self-Evaluation Materials

Enforcement Activities

Related Resources

U.S. Department of Education Resources

U.S. Department of Education Funded Resources and Partnerships

Other Resources



The applicability of Federal civil rights laws to juvenile justice residential facilities.

OCR and the U.S. Department of Justice jointly issued a Dear Colleague Letter concerning the applicability of Federal civil rights laws to juvenile justice residential facilities.



December 8, 2014


Dear Colleague,
Although the overall number of youth involved in the juvenile justice system has been decreasing, there are still more than 60,000 young people in juvenile justice residential facilities in the United States on any given day.1 With the support of grants administered by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), juvenile justice residential facilities provide educational services to hundreds of thousands of students over the course of each year.2
The Departments are committed to working with juvenile justice residential facilities to ensure that all students have equal educational opportunities, while supporting these facilities in preparing these students for successful reentry into their communities, so that they are ready to return to their local schools and graduate, to continue or begin a postsecondary program, or enter employment. As part of these efforts, we write to remind you that the Federal civil rights laws, regulations, and guidance that prohibit race, color, national origin, sex, religion, and disability discrimination against students in traditional public schools also apply to educational services and supports offered or provided to youth in juvenile justice residential facilities.


Read the entire letter at http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/letters/colleague-residential-facilities-201412.pdf



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