Record disability civil rights complaints despite decades of enforcement

The Vocational Rehabilitation Act with Section 504, outlawing discrimination against individuals with a disability by any federally funded organization will turn 40 next year.

The Education for all Handicapped Children Act, which upon reauthorization became IDEA is almost as old. Passed in 1975, it is now 37.

Even the baby of the bunch, the Americans with Disabilities Act, is over two decades old, having been signed by the first Bush in 1990.

Even so, according to a report just released by the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights, there were more disability-related complaints over the last three fiscal years, from 2009 through 2011, than ever before in a three year period."

As a matter of fact, over half, 55 percent, of the total complaints received by that office during that interval were related to disabilities, as opposed to race, color, national origin, or gender.

Researchers, however, could provide no insight in what might have driven the record number of complaints.

The report presents a disappointing record by schools and colleges when it comes to ensuring that students with disabilities are offered educational access on par with their non-disabled peers.

Entitled, "Disability Rights Enforcement Highlights," it catalogues the issues investigated over the last three years, providing anecdotal accounts of particular situations with a description of the remedies brokered and enforced by OCR.

While the document notes "progress in the area of disability rights in education," it goes on to say, "We also recognize that equal opportunity for people with disabilities has not yet been achieved."

Over 11,700 complaints were received during the three year span covered in the report, with 4,600 alleging violations in providing Free Appropriate Public Education. "This is by far the disability issue on which OCR receives the most complaints, making up almost two fifths of the ... disability complaints received in this time period," the agency stated.

FAPE is the cornerstone of all legislation related to the instruction of students with disabilities, mandating that all pupils with impairments are entitled to whatever accommodations may be necessary to benefit from school at no expense to families.

There were a host of other categories of potential "disability-related" civil rights violations investigated by OCR, including:

- Discipline

- Academic Adjustments

- Accessibility to Technology

- Physical Accessibility of Programs, Services, and Facilities

- Harassment, Including Bullying

- Equal Treatment

Situations were reported across the board - at the elementary level, at middle and high schools, at colleges and universities, as well as at charter schools.

Nevertheless, OCR emphasized its continuing commitment to its work in this area, asserting that it will "continue to vigorously enforce" the relevant laws "to ensure that students with disabilities receive the education that all students deserve."


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