Written by Sussan, Greenwald & Wesler
Federal and state law requires that accelerated programs be made available to students with disabilities and that entry requirement for such programs not discriminate against students who require special services. Furthermore, if a student requires modifications such as extended time or a computer for taking notes, the school must provide those same modifications in any accelerated or gifted programming in which that child participates. It has been eight years since a letter issued by the Office of Civil Rights clarified this law for schools and parents. Despite the letter, confusion still seems to exist among parents and educators. However, the law is clear: Parents simply cannot be asked to choose between gifted programming and special education services or modifications that are designed to serve their child’s individualized learning needs.
The laws that entitle students with disabilities to a free, appropriate public education include the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504), and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (Title II). December 26, 2007, an open letter from the Office of Civil Rights made clear that the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) and the U.S. Department of Education are committed to acting promptly to remedy violations of students with disabilities’ right to participate in challenging academic programs such as Advanced Placement classes. A special needs student’s academic program is required to be individualized. OCR has made clear that the requirement for individualized programming determinations for a student with special needs is violated “when schools ignore the student’s individual needs and automatically deny a qualified student with a disability needed related aids and services in an accelerated class or program.”
While many school districts do assist their special needs students in participating in challenging academic programs, parents should be aware that it is the right of a student with disabilities to do so. While schools may have requirements for students to gain entry to such programs, they cannot discriminate against students with special needs or condition acceptance on forfeiture of special education and related services.
How can parents use this information?
- Parents should investigate the accelerated programs that might suit their child’s interests, and not assume their children are not eligible because they have an IEP or 504 Plan.
- Parents should question any response from school districts that indicate that their children are automatically ineligible due to their children’s classification or special needs.
- Parents should bring their knowledge of the law–as clarified by the Office of Civil Rights–to the attention of school personnel where necessary.
- Parents should not fear that they will be forced to forfeit special education if they ask for advanced programming. Also, parents of gifted children should not fear that their children will be denied advanced programming if they address their child’s special needs and request special education or related services.
- Parents should know that violations of the law can be brought to the attention of the Office of Civil Rights, if necessary.
Students and schools benefit when children with special needs have access to a meaningful education–which includes participation in appropriate advanced academic coursework. The Office of Civil Rights has made clear that students with special needs should be welcome in such programs on an equal basis as their non-disabled peers. Parents should assert with confidence their children’s right to receive an individualized program–one that challenges their children and also provides for their unique educational needs.