New guidance released from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights and Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services helps public elementary and secondary schools fulfill their responsibilities to meet the needs of students with disabilities and avoid the discriminatory use of student discipline.

Newly released resources provide comprehensive guidance on the civil rights of students with disabilities concerning student discipline.

“All students deserve to have their rights protected, and schools deserve greater clarity on how they can avoid the discriminatory use of discipline,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. “Too often, students with disabilities face harsh and exclusionary disciplinary action at school.”

The new resources reflect the concern, particularly in light of the prevalence of student mental health issues associated with the pandemic, that some students with disabilities are not receiving the supports and services necessary to address their educational needs, including their disability-based behavior.

The guidance makes clear that schools do not need to choose between complying with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and keeping their school community – including students and staff – safe.

The new resources include:

The guidance also:

  • Outlines how Section 504’s requirements to provide a FAPE apply to long-term disciplinary sanctions, such as out-of-school suspensions and expulsions.
  • Explains Section 504’s general nondiscrimination requirements, in the context of discipline, which applies to school staff and to the conduct of everyone with whom the school has a contractual or other arrangement, such as security staff and school police.
  • Makes clear that Section 504 requires schools to provide reasonable modifications to policies, practices and procedures when necessary to avoid discrimination.

Section 504 does not prohibit a school from responding to emergency circumstances, such as contacting law enforcement or crisis intervention specialists, or from taking appropriate, nondiscriminatory steps to maintain safety and support students in learning how to be accountable for the impact of their actions on others.

Read the news release announcing the guidance.

Get more information about fostering nondiscriminatory and safe learning environments.