WASHINGTON — The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) released guidance today reminding schools of their obligations under federal disability rights law to protect and support students with disabilities in the classroom, including from the discriminatory use of school discipline.

The new OCR guidance clarifies that schools must evaluate and provide supports for students with disabilities. This includes providing reasonable modifications to policies and practices to protect students with disabilities from discriminatory school discipline, including discipline under facially neutral policies. The guidance also makes clear that federal disability laws apply to the conduct of police in schools.

Susan Mizner, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Disability Rights Program, issued the following statement in response:

“The Department of Education’s new guidance is a positive step forward in helping public schools create the best learning environment for all students.

“For far too many children with disabilities, school is a place of fear and confusion. We know that harsh discipline falls disproportionately on students with disabilities — especially students of color with disabilities — contributing to higher drop-out rates and lower enrollment in higher education. 

“The Department makes crystal clear in its guidance that police officers contracted to schools must also make reasonable modifications in interacting with students with disabilities. For example, the Department recommends bringing in another staff member who the student trusts and can help them de-escalate, or for mental health crises, involving personnel trained in crisis intervention.  We appreciate that the Department shares our view that police involvement in schools should be minimized as much as possible.   

“The data shows that students learn best where they feel safe, are supported, and have their mental and physical health needs met. When schools model appropriate understanding and acceptance for students with disabilities, it improves the academic outcomes of all students.”

 

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